Image Credit- The Independant
The England Cricket Board have announced that the test series against Sri Lanka, due to commence on the 19th of March in Galle, has been postponed in light of the growing worldwide threat of coronavirus.
The news broke early on the 13th of March, cutting short the final warm up game in Colombo, following ongoing discussions between the ECB and the Sri Lankan and British High Commissions.
An ECB statement read: “Due to the Covid- 19 pandemic worsening globally, and after discussion with Sri Lanka Cricket, we have today made the decision to return our players to the U.K. and postpone the forthcoming Test series between Sri Lanka and England”.
This followed just a day after the ECB insisted that “the series is planned to continue”, but warned that “circumstances are changing rapidly”.
Sri Lanka remains largely unaffected by the virus with only a handful of national cases. The government has already closed schools and introduced mandatory 14-day quarantine under medical supervision for travellers arriving from Italy, South Korea and Iran. With the list of countries subject to quarantine under constant review there were concerns that travelling England fans, unknowingly carrying the virus, could initiate an outbreak.
As of yet, no changes have been announced regarding visa or quarantine requirements for travellers to and from Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the ECB were not willing to take any chances.
The Chief Executive of the Professional Cricketers Association has said “any situation in which the players might be prevented from returning home to the UK would be disastrous”.
The England team had introduced precautionary measures for the tour by banning all handshakes, to be replaced by fist bumps. They then initiated a 2 metre ‘exclusion zone’ with the media, while also prohibiting interaction with supporters, including autographs and selfies.
This series is not the first cricketing event to be affected by the pandemic. A day after England’s announcement, New Zealand also cancelled the rest of their tour of Australia and returned home.
While the current ODI series in India is being played without spectators in a bid to contain the virus. The Indian Premier League, the world’s most watched cricket tournament, is also expected to follow this trend. The BCCI have also decided to delay the start of the tournament as a “precautionary measure”. Initially due to commence on the 29th March, it has now been pushed back to the 15th April.
A number of England’s stars are expected to feature in the tournament, including Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Sam Curran. They had been informed that they had to be back in the U.K. for the 26th May in order to prepare for the test series against West Indies which is scheduled to begin on the 6th June. With the IPL final originally meant to be on the 24th May this would have allowed the English players to compete in the whole tournament.
However, with new scheduling yet to be released, it is likely they will now have their time in competition being cut short. This is of course all circumstantial as decisions will be made closer to the time as and when there is more information on the spread of the virus.
England players will no doubt be disappointed. However, with reports from the media in Sri Lanka saying that players had expressed concerns for their health, they will also be relieved. As highlighted in the statement made by the ECB, “these are completely unprecedented times, and decisions like this go beyond cricket”.
England had looked to be in a good place moving into the first test match. Zak Crawley stood out as the pick of the batsmen in the warmups and has done himself a big favour going into the English summer, scoring 43 and 91 in the first game.
Captain Joe Root also scored a hundred in the second game, while Ollie Pope contributed 95 as he continues to impress in an England shirt.
Joe Denly once again frustrated with the bat, getting into double figures in each of his three innings without converting it into a score of substance. With Rory Burns due to make a return to the side against the West Indies in June and Crawley in good form, Denly’s place in the side will be under intense scrutiny.
The health and safety of players, staff, home and travelling supporters must always be at the forefront of any decision made on sporting events. However, do spare a thought for the 3,000 travelling fans who were expecting to watch England in Sri Lanka this month. They are unlikely to be covered by insurance for their trip and so far the ECB have released little information, with some supporters already in the country.
The Barmy Army, England Cricket’s main support group company, released a statement saying “We are extremely disappointed that the tour has been called off but we are not surprised by the decision. The question will now be how do the thousands of travelling fans recoup all of their money spent on this tour?”
England’s next scheduled international fixture will now be at the Oval on the 6th June against the West Indies in the first match of the three game test series.