Joe Root says the England squad have been dealing with a lot off the field after losing the first Test to South Africa. (1:09)
Spare a thought for holiday-makers catching a flight to Cape Town from Johannesburg on New Year’s Eve.
For there is a fair chance some of them will be sharing a plane with an England squad so sickly that they should probably be led by a hooded figure ringing a mournful warning bell.
News that Dom Sibley, the opening batsman, is the latest to succumb to the illness means that 17 members* of the touring party – including backroom staff – have been ill at some stage. The England management remain keen not to use the episode as an excuse for the lacklustre performance in Centurion – and, to be fair, it wasn’t as if it was the only lacklustre performance of the year – but there is no doubt it has hampered them.
Although the news about Sibley is a setback, there is some optimism within the camp that they are, at last, coming to the end of the saga. But although most of those previously affected are now back in training, it will take some time to regain the fitness and stamina levels they had before. And in these temperatures – and at these altitudes – that is a real issue.
There has been some encouraging news. Jack Leach, who spent time in hospital in New Zealand after sustaining gastroenteritis, is out of quarantine and will travel with the rest of the squad to Cape Town. It remains unlikely he will be considered fit for the second Test, however, as he has hardly bowled a ball for a month. Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson are vying for a spot in his place. At present, it seems Bess is ahead in that race.
It may make sense to consider contingency plans. Although the team management are adamant they do not require further reinforcements – they do have 19 men here, after all – it may be worth asking Gareth Batty, the Surrey offspinner, to attend nets over the next few days.
Batty is currently here in his role as part of the talkSPORT commentary team and was deemed good enough for a Test spot as recently as November 2016. He remains, aged 42, a first-class player with Surrey – he played eight Championship games in 2019, twice as many as Parkinson did – and could, perhaps, provide some assurance should Bess and Parkinson also fall ill in the coming days. Batty recorded his best first-class figures – 8 for 64 – in May. England could do much, much worse.
While it’s too early to rule Sibley out of contention for Cape Town, his illness could provide opportunity for Zak Crawley to come in as an opening batsman. Equally, it could provide a reprieve for Jonny Bairstow, who looks set otherwise to make way for the returning Ollie Pope. While inexperienced, Crawley does have an excellent reputation for his ability to play quick bowling. Chris Woakes is also out of quarantine and understood to be on the mend.
If England do elect to play a spinner at Cape Town – that is not certain; South Africa did not pick one in their last Test on the ground and Pakistan’s spinner, Yasir Shah, finished wicketless – it will leave them with a tricky decision over which seamer to leave out.
Sam Curran, who was probably the pick of bowlers in the first innings in Centurion and offers more than most with the bat, could consider himself unfortunate to be left out, while Jofra Archer, despite proving expensive, proved his value with a five-wicket haul in England’s second innings.
That would leave England needing to decide between the two leading wicket-takers in their Test history: James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Both may feel they have come on for the run-out in the first Test; Broad was clearly suffering the after effects of illness and Anderson was playing his first game since the start of August. It’s the sort of decision that could leave the management feeling sick.
*Who has suffered from Plague White/Ian Rubella/Darren Whooping-Gough/Gladstone Small (That’s enough. Ed) so far:
Players: Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
Non-players: Carl Hopkinson (fielding coach), Graham Thorpe (batting coach), Sam Dickason (security manager), Greg Stobart (digital manager) and two local liaison officers (one in Benoni and one in Centurion)
Source: ESPN Crickinfo