James Anderson says England’s Ashes squad are crossing their fingers and hoping the Covid-19 outbreak which will see head coach Chris Silverwood miss the fourth Test has not spread any further.
A series that has lurched from bad to worse on the field is now beset by concerns over the virus, which has already infected seven people from the wider touring group in Melbourne.
The under-pressure Silverwood tested negative on Wednesday but one of his family members did return a positive result and he has been instructed to isolate with them for up to 10 days, meaning assistant coach Graham Thorpe will lead England to Sydney.
He is fronting a slender backroom team, with fast bowling coach Jon Lewis, spin mentor Jeetan Patel and strength and conditioning specialist Darren Veness among the positive cases in quarantine.
Match referee David Boon will also miss the fourth Test having contracted the virus, another cause for concern, with his absence confirmed just as a Big Bash League match between Melbourne Stars and Perth Scorchers was called off at the eleventh hour following a confirmed case.
Another round of PCR testing was conducted on Thursday, the fourth batch since the first positive in the travelling party, and an all-clear is needed to quell difficult questions about the continuation of the series.
As it stands, both teams are due to share a charter flight on New Year’s Eve and then stay in the same hotel in Sydney. Should there be further cases among the England group, specifically the 18-strong playing staff, it is hard to foresee things going ahead as planned.
Thorpe took an optional net session at the MCG on Thursday morning, assisted by Ant Botha, with Anderson among those in attendance.
The 39-year-old spoke for the camp as he assessed a fluid situation with some uncertainty.
“We are just hoping it’s not spreading any further and we can make sure everyone is safe and able to travel to Sydney.
“We found out late last night [about Silverwood]. It’s frustrating and we’ve been tested again this morning, the whole team,” he said.
“We are just hoping it’s not spreading any further and we can make sure everyone is safe and able to travel to Sydney. We’re trying to control the spread as much as possible and use the safety protocols around the hotel.
“It’s not ideal but it’s been that sort of tour. Something has been happening all the time. Lots of stuff away from the cricket which can cause distractions, so it’s something we have to deal with.”
An ECB statement read: “As a result of the positive test, England men’s head coach Chris Silverwood will have to isolate for 10 days, along with his family, in Melbourne and will miss the fourth Ashes Test.
“The touring party have recorded seven positive cases – three support staff and four family members – since a PCR testing regime was implemented on Monday 27 December.”
State health rules in Victoria would allow Silverwood to leave isolation after seven days rather than the full 10, provided he has not caught the virus and returns a negative test on day six. That would mean an outside chance of arriving at some point on the first day of the fourth Test, but it is understood he is currently planning to remain with and support his family.
With a heavily reduced coaching group over the coming days, Anderson stands ready to put his 20 years of international experience to use as a motivating force around a side who need to lift themselves off the canvas at the SCG to stave off the prospect of a 5-0 defeat.
“We have to restore some pride and try and compete – that’s our main focus as players. We have to block out what’s happening off the field and focus on the fourth and fifth Tests,” he said.
“It can be difficult at times, especially for guys experiencing the Ashes for the first time who are not that experienced with Test cricket and touring. That’s where the more senior players come in, we have to try and rally round, make sure everyone is in a good place and a good head space.”