Eight more members test Covid-positive, but PCB insists England tour is on

Pakistan’s tour of England is on, claimed the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), even as eight more members of the touring party – seven players and support staff – tested positive for coronavirus.

Fakhar Zaman, Imran Khan, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan, and Wahab Riaz, and masseur Malang Ali have tested positive, as a total of 35 Covid-19 tests were conducted at Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar on Monday. This came on top of three Covid positive results – Haider Ali, Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan – yesterday. In an extended 29-member squad, 10 players have now been sent to self-isolation, although apart from Rizwan, others aren’t Test regulars.

Pakistan will play three Tests followed by as many T20 internationals in England and as per the revised schedule, the first Test is likely to commence from August 5. Discussion is ongoing with regards to picking Old Trafford and Ageas Bowl as bio-secure venues for the entire tour, but the itinerary hasn’t been confirmed yet.

“The tour to England is very much on track and the side will depart as per schedule on 28 June. Fortunately, all the first-choice red-ball squad, barring Mohammad Rizwan, are negative, which means they can start training and practising immediately after they have been tested and given the all-clear when they arrive in England,” PCB chief executive Wasim Khan stated.

Up there in Blighty, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) director of cricket Ashley Giles, too, contended that the as of now the tour is not in doubt. At the same time, Giles expressed his “concern”. In a curtailed season, the ECB is banking on the series against the West Indies and Pakistan for revenue generation.

“We still are far enough out, even if a number of those results were still positive, but this is the difference with international sport. We need to get our opposition in (the) country. Anything that puts that at risk or in danger is clearly a problem,” Giles was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Given that the Covid curve is on an upward spiral in Pakistan – total cases have risen to 185,034 – while it is flattening in the UK, there remains an element of doubt about the future of the series. “All of this has uncertainty still, even to any degree the West Indies series, because we know how fast-moving this situation has been around the world,” Giles said.

International cricket will return to England with a three-Test series against the West Indies starting at Southampton from July 8. Coming back to Pakistan, the players and support staff who have tested negative, will assemble “in a bio-secure environment” at Lahore on June 24 and will undergo “second round of testing” on June 25. Those who will be tested negative will be on board a charter flight to Manchester. “Within 24 after hours after arriving in the UK, they will be tested by the ECB medical panel,” the PCB stated. The squad will observe a quarantine period in England.

For those who have tested positive, the PCB chief executive said: “As regards the players, who have tested positive, we will continue to monitor and support them, including conducting antibody tests, and as soon as they test negative, they will be flown to join the squad in England.

“In the meantime, (head coach) Misbah-ul-Haq is reviewing the training schedule in England and is firming up plans for reserve players to be tested as a backup.”

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