Pakistan captain Babar Azam said on Wednesday there was no thought of abandoning the team’s white-ball tour of England after learning of a major coronavirus outbreak within the home squad.
Two days before the one-day series was scheduled to begin, England announced that seven of its personnel — three players and four members of the backroom staff — had tested positive for coronavirus.
With the rest of squad instructed to isolate after being identified as close contacts, the tour — featuring three one-day international (ODI) matches and three Twenty20 (T20) matches — could have been in jeopardy but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) hastily assembled an entirely new 18-strong squad from across England’s county game.
Asked whether there was any temptation to call off the trip, Azam said: “No, we didn’t think about it, it didn’t come into our minds at any time.
“The PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) and ECB have assured us that they will take care of the safety and health of all the squad members. Of course it was disappointing news. We must understand that these are unprecedented times of Covid-19. We are focusing on cricket and the first game.”
That comes on Thursday in Cardiff and Azam was keen to underline that Pakistan will not be underestimating a revised England squad containing nine players uncapped at the ODI level.
“We can’t take any player playing for England lightly,” said Azam, the top-ranked ODI batsman who has represented Somerset in English county cricket over the last couple of years.
“They may be new players but they are playing for England. I know a few of them having played in the T20 Blast and those we don’t know we have researched their performances.”
Ben Stokes will captain England in its emergency, having been left out of the original group to continue his recovery from finger surgery.
The allrounder has called on England’s makeshift squad to make the most of an unexpected opportunity.
“One thing I told myself to tell the team is that, although this has been a very quick turnaround of events in having to pick a new squad, it does not matter what names are on the back of an England shirt. We are walking out there as the number one team,” Stokes said.
“That is an exciting thing to say you are a part of,” he continued, “whether you are an experienced player, young player or someone coming into the group for the first time. Situations like these are so rare and such a fluster, I would say you have got a chance to represent your country so let’s do it with a smile on our face and just enjoy it as much as we can as a group.”