Joe Root, the England captain, says that his team’s overwhelming reaction was one of “relief” after their two-Test tour of Sri Lanka was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tour’s postponement was confirmed with England midway through the second day of their final warm-up match in Colombo, ahead of the first Test in Galle that had been due to get underway on March 19.
The players left the field at P Sara Oval at 3.40pm local time, and immediately departed for the team hotel ahead of their flight back to London on Saturday morning.
And speaking to PA prior to the departure, Root said that the team’s concerns for their friends and families back home had made it nigh on impossible to focus fully on the task of preparing for a Test series.
“There was an element of relief,” Root said. “The right decision has been made.
“You could see looking at the players that their minds were elsewhere thinking about people back home. Now that we can go and look after families and be with loved ones that’s put a lot of guys at ease.
“Naturally there was a lot of talk in the dressing room and it got to a stage where it overshadowed the cricket. Looking at how quickly things have happened at home, you’re thinking about family and friends who might be a bit more vulnerable and that’s hard when you’re a long way away.
“It was clear it was getting in the way of performance and affecting the mental well-being of the guys.”
The postponement was reluctantly agreed to by Sri Lanka Cricket, who stand to make a significant financial loss, but with 3000 England fans expected in Galle for the first Test, the likelihood of a spike in Sri Lanka’s recorded cases of COVID-19 was high.
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And with that in mind, the England team had been briefed on the quarantine arrangements, should any players or staff have contracted the virus while on tour. They would have had to be removed from the team environment and placed under the jurisdiction of the Sri Lanka government, a prospect that Root said had alarmed the squad.
“There were a number of different scenarios we could have found ourselves in that were pretty scary to be honest,” said Root.
“You think how things might have gone – being in isolation here, disconnected from the team, without the security we would usually have around us at the ground or the hotel. If one of the lads was to get it in these conditions, or a member of the public travelling, it could be quite a scary experience.”
England’s next scheduled international series is a three-Test home campaign against West Indies, with the first Test slated to begin at The Oval on June 4.
But, with the UK government stating that they expect the peak of the virus to come in 10-14 weeks, right at the height of the tour, there is an increasing expectation that that tour will also fall victim to the pandemic. The ECB on Thursday outlined contingency plans to mitigate the financial, logistical and scheduling implications for the English season.
Although mass gatherings in the UK have not yet been banned, the government have indicated that that may soon be on the cards. One prospect for English cricket would be for certain matches to be staged behind closed doors, as happened with Australia’s recent ODI against New Zealand in Sydney.
“It would be very strange if that was to happen but if these things have to happen so be it,” Root said. “We always get supported extremely well and that has played a big part in our results in recent years. They have a big impact on the way we play our cricket, we like to interact.
“We don’t know when we’ll play again. I suppose you can’t have mass gatherings so there won’t be many training camps. I’m sure over the coming weeks we’ll prepare and do everything we can to be as ready as possible but until we know more it’s just a case of common sense. Look after yourself, condition well and be ready to start.”