The Proteas run the risk of having to select a clutch of new players for their first Test against Sri Lanka, following the latest round of domestic four day fixtures being ravaged by Covid-19 positive tests.
On Monday, the fixture between the Titans and Dolphins was abandoned after a Dolphins player tested positive. Subsequently, at least three more Dolphins players have tested Covid-19 positive.
ESPNcricinfo‘s Firdose Moonda reported that a Lions player tested positive in the fixture between the Lions and Knights on day three and was withdrawn. After a risk assessment and consultation with the Knights players and coaching staff, it was decided to continue playing.
None of the five players’ names who tested positive across the two fixtures have been revealed. However, those fixtures featured 10 players in the Proteas squad for the Sri Lanka series, which starts in nine days time.
The Lions have Rassie van der Dussen, Beuran Hendricks, Wiaan Mulder. Migael Pretorius, who received a maiden Proteas call-up on Wednesday, plays for the Knights. The Titans have the trio of Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar and Lungi Ngidi, while Keshav Maharaj, Sarel Erwee and Keegan Petersen play for the Dolphins.
It is likely that Van der Dussen, Markram, Elgar, Ngidi and Maharaj would have been selected for the first Test, while Hendricks and Mulder would have been confident of filling slots vacated by Kagiso Rabada and Dwaine Pretorius, respectively.
As it stands, the only certainties in the Proteas squad, provided they don’t test positive prior to or within the bio-secure bubble in Pretoria, are Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Anrich Nortje, Kyle Verreynne and Glenton Stuurman.
The present situaiton is unclear because of the policy of secrecy that envelopes this issue. One assumes that the Titans and Dolphins players who were close contacts of the positive cases have been placed in mandatory 10-day quarantine. If that 10-day period started on Monday, 14 December, they will be allowed to join the Proteas squad on 23 December, just three days before the first Test starts.
It’s a different situation for the Lions and Knights players, who only concluded their fixture on Wednesday, 16 December. If any of those players are deemed to have been in close enough contact with the positive case, or test positive themselves, they will miss the Boxing Day Test altogether.
Furthermore, if any of the players who tested positive in the Titans/Lions fixtures are in the Proteas squad, there will be serious questions around their physical readiness to play a Test match so soon after recovering from the virus.
Last Thursday, CSA confirmed that the series would go ahead as planned. This after it was reported that Sri Lanka had expressed deep concerns about the circumstances that led to the England series ending prematurely due to positive Covid-19 tests.
Australia, who South Africa are scheduled to face from late February, are considering their options, including requesting that the series be played Down Under, in light of South Africa’s surging coronavirus numbers and questions around the integrity of any bio-secure bubble.
The seriousness of the pandemic in South Africa was further underlined when, on Thursday, CSA announced that the sixth round of the 4-Day Domestic Series was postponed due to a surge in positive coronavirus cases.