MATTALA: England’s cricketers arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday to resume a Test tour cancelled in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, in what officials hope will be a ‘massive boost’ for match-starved cricket fans.
A British Airways charter flight carrying 40 passengers — players and support staff — landed in Mattala, in the south of the Indian Ocean island, where they underwent virus tests.
Joe Root’s men had the small airport to themselves as Sri Lanka has closed its airspace to scheduled commercial airlines. Only a handful of repatriation flights and charters are allowed into Sri Lanka since May under strict health controls.
“We are very excited about the Galle Tests,” Root told a small group of cameramen allowed into the terminal for their arrival.
The contingent were driven in busses to a nearby luxury hotel, officials said adding that a second hotel has been reserved to isolate and treat any of the visitors who may test positive for the virus.
However, a spokesman for the England team said Sunday’s on-arrival tests returned negative, but players will isolate themselves in rooms before another round of testing on Tuesday.
“We will be tested again on Tuesday morning,” the spokesman said. “If all tests return negative on Tuesday, we will be able to train Tuesday afternoon for the first time.”
Airport staff in white hazmat suits sprayed the hands and footwear of the visitors and their luggage before they were allowed into the terminal for coronavirus tests.
Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket, Ashley Giles, said the team looked forward to playing at the seaside Galle stadium.
“To play in Galle will be very special — it is one of the iconic venues in world cricket,” he said in a statement. “The past 10 months have been uncertain for us all, but having international cricket returning to Sri Lanka will be a massive boost for cricket fans all over the world.”
The team will not interact with locals, but sign cricket bats which will be auctioned to raise money for two charities supporting victims of sexual violence in Sri Lanka, the British High Commission said.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) said the team’s hotel in the island’s southern district of Hambantota will be off limits for locals as part of quarantine regulations.
The England team’s aircraft was permitted to enter Sri Lanka despite a ban on all flights and passengers from the UK. England abandoned their two-match Test tour of Sri Lanka in March on the second day of a practice match as the pandemic spread.
They will now play their two Tests starting on Jan 14 at the Galle International Stadium without any spectators.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2021