England tour in doubt after first ODI abandoned and ‘unconfirmed’ positives

England’s tour of South Africa lurched back into crisis mode on Sunday after two unnamed members of Eoin Morgan’s touring party recorded “unconfirmed” positive tests for Covid-19 following the abandonment of the first one-day international in Paarl.

The match had already been called off 30 minutes before the start of play as a result of two members of staff at the Vineyard hotel testing positive, news which led to the England team and staff being tested again on Saturday evening.

And now a tour that has already seen three South African players emerge has positive cases – and forced Friday’s initial series-opener to be called off – is in danger of being ended altogether following this latest development.

A joint statement from Cricket South Africa and the England and Wales Cricket Board read: “CSA and the ECB have agreed to cancel today’s One-Day International match, which was due to take place in Paarl.

“The decision was taken after two hotel staff members testing positive for COVID-19. As a precaution, the England players and management underwent an additional round of PCR tests on Saturday evening.

“Following the test results, two members of the England touring party have returned unconfirmed positive tests for Covid-19. The players and management are now self-isolating in their rooms until further advice from the medical teams.

“The medical advice from both CSA and ECB is that the match cannot not take place.

“A decision on the remaining matches in the series will be taken once the results of the tests are ratified independently by medical experts.”

Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, said: “We regret that we are unable to play in today’s ODI, but the welfare of the players and support staff is our primary concern and whilst we await the results of further tests the medical advice from both teams was that this game should not take place.

“We remain in constant dialogue with Cricket South Africa and will continue to work closely with them to determine how best to move forward.”

CSA director of cricket, Graeme Smith added: “CSA is doing everything in our power to ensure that our top priority, which is the health, safety and welfare of players, support staff and all involved in this series is safeguarded. With that in mind, we have made the joint decision to cancel today’s match.

“We are deeply regretful of the situation we find ourselves in after the amount of time and energy that has been put in place to host a successful tour.

“We are in continuous talks with the ECB as we navigate the situation under the guidance of our combined medical teams.”

Suspicions were raised at 9am on Sunday – an hour before the start of play – when neither team bus had arrived at Boland Park, with the announcement of an initial delay to proceedings coming 25 minutes ahead of the scheduled toss and news of two positive test results among the hotel staff.

At this stage England were still waiting on the results from a fresh round of testing that took place on Saturday night. The match was then officially abandoned at 9.35am before a statement landed just over an hour later that confirmed the two cases among the touring party.

The two teams are due to meet again at Newlands on Monday and Wednesday for the second and third one-day internationals – fixtures that are now clearly in the balance. If they cannot go ahead, it could cost Cricket South Africa around £1.5m in broadcast revenues and impact upcoming visits this season by Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia.

England had already expressed grave concerns with the integrity of the biosecure arrangements for the tour after Friday’s positive result among the Proteas’ camp, something which will only intensify further with the latest positive test results.

Roy Davies, general manager of the Vineyard hotel in Newlands, has confirmed further contract tracing has begun amid widespread uncertainty as to how the virus has entered the bubble and then seemingly spread.

Davies said: “At this stage, it is not clear how the staff members became infected as neither have left the biosecure area since 16 November and they do not work on the same team or in the same area. Our Covid response team is endeavouring to establish all the facts and contact tracing is under way.

“Our number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of our staff and guests and we have placed all our resources and efforts into investigating and resolving the situation.

“Both members of staff and a player who also tested positive on Friday are currently isolated in on-site apartments some distance from the hotel which have been kept sterilised and available for this purpose. We will issue further statements as more facts become available.”