Health

England’s Ashes fate in balance as players wait for COVID-19 results

Two England
support staff and two of their family members were in isolation after testing
positive for COVID-19, throwing a scare through the team as they prepared to
head to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for day two of the third Test.

The players
were all cleared after rapid antigen tests and play proceeded without
disruption barring a half-hour delay.

However,
England will need to wait for the results from more thorough PCR tests to be
clear to return for day three on Tuesday, which they do not expect to receive
until morning.

Under ICC
rules, teams are allowed to make replacements for players ruled out by COVID-19
with the match referee’s approval, so long as the substitutes are considered
“like-for-like” and would not provide undue advantage.

An England
team spokesman said it was still to be decided how the match would proceed if
there was a positive COVID-19 case among the players.

It was also
unclear whether players would be deemed close contacts of any infected team
mates and be forced to isolate.

“We’re
all having PCR tests now,” England paceman James Anderson told reporters.

“And
obviously, we need all those to be clear, really, if possible, so we’ll just
have to wait and see what the results are.”

HEAVY DEFEAT

The COVID
tension added to a deflating final session on Monday for England, who were
staring down the barrel of another heavy defeat following losses in Brisbane
and Adelaide.

They were 31
for four in their second innings at stumps, still needing 51 runs to make
Australia bat again.

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Trailing 2-0
in the series, Joe Root’s side need to win in Melbourne to keep the series
alive.

While the
odds are stacked against them, having the match called off would be a bitter
pill to swallow.

Even with
two Tests to play in Sydney and Hobart, holders Australia would, by default,
retain the urn if Melbourne is unable to proceed or be rescheduled.

That could
also place the rest of the series under a cloud.

England’s
players were already reluctant to tour Australia under strict COVID protocols
and that reticence may only grow with the Ashes lost and nothing left to play
for.

With a large
amount of revenue at stake, host board Cricket Australia (CA) is naturally
desperate to see the series play out as scheduled.

CA boss Nick
Hockley rejected any need for alterations to the schedule or to shift the
fourth test to Melbourne from Sydney, where authorities are battling a steep
rise in COVID cases.

“We’ve
got great confidence in the protocols,” he told reporters at the MCG.

“This
is something that we’re all having to live with.”

COVID has
already proved a disruption in the series, if not impacting Australia’s
dominance.

Home captain
Cummins was forced to miss the second Test in Adelaide and isolate for a week
after being identified as a close contact of a case.

Australia
shrugged off his absence to win by 275 runs.

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