The Proteas will take on England in the first T20 International at Newlands on Friday without match practice in the format in the 10 days in which they have been camped together in the Vineyard Hotel.
That won’t be a problem for Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortjé, Faf du Plessis and Lungi Ngidi, all of whom enjoyed ample game time during the IPL (Indian Premier League). To a lesser degree David Miller, who played just once, will at least be in T20 mode, but practice is practice and there is no substitute for the real thing, even if the scheduled matches were going to be intra-squad affairs.
The tourists showed with ample clarity on Saturday and again on Sunday that a professional cricketer’s competitive edge is not blunted just because he is playing against teammates — especially when they are all wearing their national colours.
Both of SA’s intra-squad games were cancelled after the second positive Covid-19 test last Friday and management’s focus has been on doing everything possible to contain the virus and reassure the tourists that they are safe.
In fact, there appear to be no limits to what the Proteas players and management are prepared to do to reassure the tourists, including living like “second-class” citizens in the luxury Vineyard Hotel which both teams are sharing.
New safety measures and protocols were introduced for the Proteas after the second positive test, measures which mean no England player will tread in the footsteps of a South African, no matter how far apart.
The Proteas have not only handed over exclusive use of the hotel’s gym and swimming pool to Eoin Morgan’s men but have even resorted to using staff entrances and fire escapes instead of the usual doors and corridors to avoid any contact with the tourists.
“We have ceded the common areas of the hotel to the England players,” said Cricket SA’s chief medical officer, Shuaib Manjra. “We always had separate dining areas but since the second positive test we have been using alternative access routes to get about. The two teams are now in completely different bubbles.”
Since Friday, the Proteas have also stopped using the hotel gym and swimming pool. Instead of having separate times to use the gym and deep-cleaning the facility between each team’s use of it, team management arranged to have different gym equipment brought to the hotel and set up in a different room.
The swimming pool had been available for to both squads because of its size and that it is open-air but that too has changed.
The extra measures will only be in place for a total of six days provided the entire Proteas squad tests negative for Covid-19 on Monday. Both squads will be tested once again on Thursday, the day before the first T20 International at Newlands.
Even if the entire Proteas squad and management test negative on Monday the extra measures to keep the squads apart will remain until a second round of negatives on Thursday.
Manjra explained the management’s reluctance to name the two Proteas players who tested positive and the two who are undergoing precautionary isolation. In England, and in most of the rest of the world, sportsmen — from footballers to cricketers and golfers — have been named after testing positive.
“We respect doctor-patient confidentiality. We have a history of TB and Aids in SA which goes back many years and affected millions of people. They both carried considerable stigma and, to a lesser degree, so does Covid-19. Our own government’s guidelines discourage the releasing of names and we are following that protocol,” Manjra said.
Should all 47 players in both squads test negative life will return to “normal” in the original bubble and the players — and fans — can finally focus fully on a cricket contest even more keenly anticipated than would have been the case before the coronavirus pandemic.
But for the next few days Quinton de Kock’s men will still be heading for the “goods entrance” on their return from training and net sessions at Newlands.
There is a possibility that the tour could be jeopardised should today’s round of testing produce further positives in the home squad. If it does, nobody can blame the players or Manjra and his team for not doing everything in their power to prevent it.
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