Fourth South Africa player enters Covid-19 isolation casting doubt on viability of England tour

Nick Hoult
·3-min read
South Africa cricket cap - Ashwini Bhatia/AP
South Africa cricket cap - Ashwini Bhatia/AP

A fourth South Africa player was put into isolation on Friday following a second positive test for Covid 19 casting a shadow over England’s tour.

South Africa called off their practice match scheduled for Saturday after a second unnamed player tested positive. It follows another unnamed player testing positive on Wednesday and put in isolation along with two team-mates he had been in close contact with. 

Officials at Cricket South Africa said the latest player had not come into contact with the rest of the squad because they are observing social distancing at the hotel.

But South Africa are now in a battle to stop the virus spreading through their playing staff with less than a week to go before the start of their Twenty20 series with England next Friday. 

England are staying in the same hotel in Cape Town as the South Africa squad but the two sets of players are kept apart. England have returned a complete set of negative tests since arriving in South Africa earlier this week. 

The six white-ball games against England are financially vital to the South Africa board and they will be doing everything to ensure the series goes ahead. As the home team, they have plenty of players they can call up at short notice as replacements. The biggest fear will be an outbreak among the England squad, which would have far-reaching consequences for the three ODIs and three T20s going ahead. 

“Team management and Cricket South Africa are in close communication with their counterparts from the England Cricket Board to ensure full transparency and the most responsible plan of action going forward,” said Cricket South Africa in a statement.

"To that end, the inter-squad practice match that was scheduled for Saturday, 21 November has been cancelled. CSA would like to reiterate that it will not release names of affected players because of doctor-patient confidentiality.”

England are pressing on with their plans and will hold an intra-squad match in Cape Town on Saturday, their first cricket of the winter. The match is likely to be 40 overs per side with no restrictions on the number of overs a bowler can bowl. 

Delivering biosecure cricket was a major financial and logistical undertaking for the England and Wales Cricket Board last summer and in order to ensure this series goes ahead they agreed to foot the bill for a charter flight to South Africa. They have also helped by providing PPE and unused testing kits.

South African cricket has been hit by covid outbreaks before. Mark Boucher, the team’s head coach, contracted the virus in July. Six players withdrew from the first round of the domestic four day competition last month with the virus even though transmission in South Africa is a lot lower than in this country.

There have been around 19,000 deaths in South Africa from Covid although it is feared official figures are far lower than reality due to a lack of testing. South Africa is now heading into its summer months when transmission abates and testing is showing a high level of antibodies in the population, possibly due to infection with previous coronaviruses.