ENGLAND’s one-day series against South Africa will get under way in the roasting temperatures of Paarl on Sunday following a nervous 24-hour wait that once again highlighted the fragility of staging international tours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 50-over leg of the trip was plunged into doubt on Friday when the latest positive Covid case among the home side led to the first ODI in Cape Town being called off less than 90 minutes before the toss.

Eoin Morgan’s players were on the two team buses at the time and about to enter the gates at Newlands.

Amid concerns from the tourists about the integrity of the biosecure bubble set up at the Vineyard hotel, where the two teams are staying in separate wings and barred from mixing socially, Cricket South Africa ordered a fresh round of Covid tests for their players on Friday evening.

With these coming back all clear on Saturday morning, a series that is worth an estimated £1.5m in revenues for the financially stricken home board – and counts towards qualification for the 2023 World Cup – will now proceed.

Sunday’s curtain-raiser in Paarl, where the forecast is for clear skies and 33c heat, is the first of two back-to-back games that will test the fast bowlers in particular. A 10am local time start (8am GMT) will be followed by day-nighters at Newlands on Monday (2pm) and Wednesday (1pm), before England depart the next day.

South Africa, meanwhile, have lost Kagiso Rabada to a groin injury and rested Faf du Plessis but are expected to bring back David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo.

The pair missed their side’s 3-0 series defeat in the Twenty20s and are believed to have been the first two positive Covid-19 cases earlier in the tour.

As was the case back then, the most recent player to test positive has not been named. Having trawled through CCTV footage at the team hotel, the perimeter of which is being monitored by Claremont police, South Africa are confident no other teammates came into contact with him and would need to self-isolate.

Both sets of players and support staff will remain on high alert, however, with another round of testing due to take place on Tuesday, before the series finale.

Along with the precarious nature of biosecure bubbles, the strain on players has once again been highlighted during the past 24 hours by Tom Banton, a reserve player in England’s squad here, pulling out of an upcoming spell with Brisbane Heat in Australia’s Big Bash League and citing mental fatigue.

Banton, one of the country’s brightest white-ball talents, had signed a new two-year deal with the Heat after impressing last winter and was due to undergo a 14-day quarantine in a hotel room before turning out for the franchise after Christmas.

However, the 22-year-old, who spent much of the home summer in the England bubble and was then part of the Kolkata Knightriders squad that played in the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates, has decided to head home.

“It has been harder than I thought spending so much time in the hubs and bubbles,” said Banton, “and I came to the realisation that it wasn’t doing me much good.

“I know the Heat looked after me really well last year and I was confident that they would understand when I spoke to Boof [head coach Darren Lehmann] and Lynny [captain Chris Lynn] about going home to regroup.”

Lehmann added: “It is a very challenging time for many people and cricket is no exception. There is no normality or work-life balance, which is so important, especially in elite sport. The well-being of the players is paramount and I am sure everyone – fans, coaches, administrators, sponsors – recognises that.”

(SOURCE: The Guardian)

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