Pakistan’s tour of England appears to be in the balance, with three of their players having tested positive for Covid-19 and a further batch of results set to be published in the next 24 hours.
A 28-man squad to cover three Tests in August and the Twenty20 series that follows is due to depart from Lahore on Sunday and all players and members of the support staff were tested regionally over the weekend.
The results from Rawalpindi, where five individuals were tested, came in early and showed Haider Ali, Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan have the virus but are asymptomatic. Imad Wasim and Usman Shinwari were shown to be clear.
The trio have been told to self‑isolate at home and could join the tour at a later date – they are considered more likely to be in the team’s white-ball plans – while Imad and Shinwari will travel to Lahore in advance of the squad’s final departure.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has confirmed these are the only batch of results currently known, with those from the players and coaches who used the testing centres in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar not due to be published until Tuesday. Haris Sohail and Mohammad Amir have declined to tour.
It leaves the England and Wales Cricket Board waiting on further positives results that could derail the tour, wipe out their second helping of men’s international cricket this summer and cost an estimated £80m in broadcast revenue.
In the build-up to the first Test series against West Indies, Phil Simmons, the tourists’ head coach, revealed he was subject to racist abuse while playing league cricket in the north east 30 years ago and said his players will show solidarity with Black Lives Matters during the upcoming series.
“I encountered quite a bit [of racism] up in the leagues. In county cricket I haven’t really encountered that much,” said the former Durham and Leicestershire player as his side prepared for the first inter-squad three-day warm-up match at Old Trafford that starts on Tuesday.
“It’s not a nice thing to face. Especially in the leagues where you’re by yourself sometimes. It affected my wife when I was up there. I played in three or four different leagues. It was one particular league up in the north east.”
Simmons declined to elaborate on the details, which likely relate to his time in the North Yorkshire and South Durham league, and any gesture planned by the two squads next month will sit in conjunction with one to recognise those on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ECB, still without a title sponsor for Test cricket after Specsavers opted not to renew its deal, has announced the three-match battle for the Wisden Trophy will be called the #RaiseTheBat series, with England sporting the names of cricket-related key workers on their training shirts.
England’s players enter their biosecure bubble at the Ageas Bowl on Tuesday and will be tested for Covid-19 before spending the first 24 hours predominantly in their rooms while waiting for the results. The 30-man training squad will then be split into two groups, with morning and afternoon sessions starting from Thursday.
As regards the series, Simmons is tipping a battle of the all-rounders between Jason Holder and Ben Stokes. In a recent interview Holder, 28, expressed a degree of frustration that players from England, Australia and India have their on-field feats more widely lauded. It is perhaps summed up by the West Indies captain, whose double century in Barbados during the 2-1 series win against England last year propelled him to No 1 in the all-rounder stakes without the fanfare that Stokes, in second, often gets.
“That rivalry is going to be huge for the series,” said Simmons. “Ben is the type of person who wants to be No 1 and he’s always going to be doing his best to get Jason’s position. Jason wants to keep it. They’re competitive in all aspects.
“Jason’s bowling is a stronger point than his batting, and vice-versa with Stokesy. It’s a case of making sure we get Stokes early and nullify that threat later in the innings.”