Cricket South Africa (CSA) is working to reassure Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) that its bio-bubble arrangements are secure, as SLC reconsider the forthcoming tour to South Africa over Covid-19 concerns. As things stand, SLC is considering withdrawing from the tour, or offering to host South Africa at home instead of going to South Africa.
SLC's concerns over the tour's safety were sparked by England's withdrawal from their tour of South Africa. It is largely the Sri Lanka board, however, rather than the players, for whom CSA's Covid-19 protocols are a worry. Essentially, SLC cannot afford for players to come back unwell, because Sri Lanka are due to play England in a Test in Galle ten days after their scheduled return from South Africa. The England Test series, which was already postponed once, is vital to the health of SLC's finances following a tough 2020. SLC is unwilling to risk that home series for the South Africa tour.
Sri Lanka's medical team were in touch with South Africa's medical officers on Tuesday, in order to ascertain whether the bio-bubble arrangements in South Africa were sufficient. Sri Lanka's team physician Dr Daminda Attanayake said that SLC's medical staff were insisting on stricter protocols than CSA had initially planned. Medical officers from both teams spoke on Tuesday.
"I have to bring the [Sri Lankan] players back from South Africa without a single positive case," Dr Attanayake said. "We've requested [South Africa's] protocols be identical to the bio-bubble protocols we have been using for the LPL (Lanka Premier League). We've been successful with those. Players have tested positive but they've been isolated. We're requesting these protocols be followed not just by our team, but theirs as well."
In addition, Dr Attanayake said, SLC's medical staff will ask that even the cleaning staff in the hotels the teams are staying at be placed in the bubble, so that the virus cannot be brought in from outside. In any case, even before England's withdrawal, SLC had asked for tougher health protocols than the ECB had.
SLC's medical staff will also speak to the ECB's medical staff on Wednesday afternoon, in order to gain a clearer picture on the nature of CSA's protocols. SLC's medical officers will make their recommendations on the South Africa tour to the SLC following that meeting. The board has largely been led by medical opinion during the pandemic, and have been among the more reticent in the world to resume international cricket. If Dr Attanayake and her colleagues are satisfied that CSA's arrangements are sufficient, the tour is likely to go ahead as scheduled.
On Tuesday, CSA's acting CEO Kugandrie Govender had confirmed the boards were in touch over health arrangements: "I've spoken to the SLC CEO today as planned. We are obviously providing them with information to give all their stakeholders, including their health authorities, the reassurances they need," she said.
South Africa are due to host Australia and Pakistan later in the summer, and cannot themselves afford for England's withdrawal to spiral into a string of cancellations.
With inputs from Firdose Moonda
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf