Eng in SL: Covid cases will not end tour - Joe Root
England fly to Sri Lanka on Saturday evening with a psychologist in their ranks and an insistence from their captain, Joe Root, that the emergence of any Covid-19 cases will not automatically trigger an end to the tour.
The two-Test series that begins on 14 January, rearranged from March when the pandemic cut short the trip. This kickstarts nearly three months on the subcontinent for the men’s national teams, with a full tour of India to follow that features four Tests, five Twenty20s and three one-day internationals.
Root described the South Africa cancellation as “a unique situation” and stressed the decision was made above their heads. But he added that Sri Lanka and India represents “a level up” as regards the challenge of touring during the pandemic.
A squad of 16 plus seven reserves, all cleared to travel after Covid-19 tests in the past week, will arrive in Hambantota for a quarantine period that allows training and a two-day warmup match, before travelling to Galle on 9 January for two Tests behind closed doors (albeit with locals possibly watching on from the fort).
The last time England toured Sri Lanka they won a three-Test series 3-0 but Root expects this series to be "slightly different".
"To win 3-0 last time round was a brilliant achievement," he said.
"It would be a bit naïve to go in and expect the same. We've got to be smart and see what is there in front of us, and we've got to play to our strengths as a group.
"We're very confident that we can get two brilliant wins, but also we're very mindful of the talents and challenges that Sri Lanka will throw at us."
England captain Joe Root says his side must "play out of our skin" to reach the World Test Championship final.
England are fourth in the standings after winning their past three series against South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan. The top two teams reach the final at Lord's in June.
Their two Tests in Sri Lanka and four in India between January and March are England's last chance to earn points.
"We'll do everything we can to get there," said Root.
"We've just got to try and win as many of the next six Tests as possible and see where we are at the end of that. It's definitely something that we talk about.
"We know we're not best seated at the moment and with the points structure as it is now, and us playing more Test cricket than anyone else, we've almost got to play out of our skin to get into that final."
The points system has been altered for this edition, with around 15% of the games due to be incomplete when the tournament ends because of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning positions will now be calculated by the percentage of points earned in completed matches.
New Zealand will overtake India to go second if they beat Pakistan in their second Test next week, but Virat Kohli's side have six Tests left to play and remain favourites to reach the final, alongside Australia.
England's last overseas tour ended prematurely with their white-ball side leaving South Africa in December after the bio-secure bubble at their Cape Town hotel was breached.
Pakistan's tour of New Zealand and Sri Lanka's of South Africa have since both continued despite positive cases.
Root, who turned 30 on Wednesday, says he does not expect their tour of Sri Lanka to be cancelled by one or two isolated cases of coronavirus.
"I don't think it would automatically mean the end of the tour," said Root.
"Those decisions will have to be made by the medical staff and the people entrusted in making those decisions - I don't think that's a player decision.
"We have to put trust and faith in those people."
All members of England's tour party tested negative before their departure from London on Saturday morning.
England's decision to leave the South Africa tour was criticised by some, including former captain Nasser Hussain, but Root said it felt like "there was no way out".
After that series the England and Wales Cricket Board director of cricket Ashley Giles said more attention would be paid to players' mental wellbeing and they would be offered screenings before future tours.
"There will be a little bit of extra support there for the players, in terms of psychologists on the ground at all times, making sure there's somebody to talk to," explained Root, who is expected to play his 100th Test during the tour of India.
"Everyone is very aware that if, at some stage, it becomes too much then they are entitled to get out."