Much more than just cricket in England-South Africa series

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The buildup to England’s cricket series in South Africa included coronavirus tests, bio-bubbles and quarantines. That’s a given nowadays for sports that involve international travel.

England captain Eoin Morgan was even quizzed Thursday, on the eve of the first Twenty20 match, as to when cricketers should expect to get virus vaccines.

“I think we’re well down the pecking order of people who should be prioritized,” he said, smartly.

Amid all that, the two teams have also had to anguish over whether to take the knee for the Black Lives Matter movement at Friday’s opening game, and what message it might send after both sets of players decided not to.

Both teams reiterated their support for the BLM movement but said for this occasion they’d be wearing black armbands in the T20 game at Newlands in a mark of respect for those affected by the coronavirus. The armbands would also be for a current campaign in South Africa raising awareness about violence against women.

The teams also realize they’re both playing to inspire some kind of positive sentiment in their home countries for yet more reasons.

England is witnessing a second wave of the virus and is in lockdown.

“I think as a sportsperson, an international sportsperson, there are very few times that you play sport or contribute to things when people really need it,” Morgan said. “Given the circumstances and how bad they still are (in Britain) … it’s important for us to go out there and put on a bit of a show.”

South Africa is playing for the first time since the virus outbreak, and after South African cricket was brought to its knees this year not by the pandemic-enforced lack of action, but by allegations of mismanagement and corruption in the national governing body that shredded the sport’s reputation. South African cricket is being run currently by an interim board after the organization’s entire leadership resigned over the last few months.

“The guys are very keen to play,” South Africa captain Quinton de Kock said. “It’s been a while since we played for the Proteas and I think the guys are ready to go and change what’s been going on around cricket in South Africa.”

For a series that was hastily arranged with a view to just getting back to playing some cricket, it’s become about everything else too.

Just for good measure, two South African players tested positive for the virus in the buildup, one of them in the secure bio-bubble that both teams are locked in at the same Cape Town hotel. If any of the home team’s latest batch of tests for COVID-19 come back positive, the series might, after all of this, be called off.

“It’s another stressful 24 hours for us,” said South Africa team doctor Shuaib Manjra, who is possibly the busiest man of the tour so far.

“Preparing without distractions is an ideal situation,” he said. “Just focusing on cricket, on your game, going to training and coming back.

“But in the real world you always have distractions. Was our preparation ideal? You would say we’ve had a couple of hiccups.”

All smooth for England, which has had no positive COVID-19 tests since arriving in Cape Town on a chartered flight for its first overseas tour since the virus outbreak.

England’s last game in South Africa was only in February, but that was another, pre-virus era. Then, stadiums were full of fans, the atmosphere was party-like and players weren’t confined to a hotel and only allowed to leave to go to training or matches.

South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has called the hotel for this series a “luxury prison,” Dr. Manjra said. It’s South Africa’s first time in a bio-bubble as a national team and for some players, their first time quarantined at all.

In terms of COVID-19 protocols, England has more experience having done this all through the multiple series they played at home in their summer.

The only time England players have felt unsettled on this tour, Morgan said, is at practice when their lineup of big-hitting batsmen have been smashing balls all over the place, putting everyone else in peril. It’s been “dangerous,” Morgan said.

No fans will be in danger on Friday with no spectators allowed for the series which has three T20s and three one-day internationals.

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