Pakistan's players were not worried about continuing their white-ball tour of England after an outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the England camp and despite a rising wave of infections through the country. England's entire first team squad was forced to isolate after seven players and management staff tested positive for Covid-19, resulting in call-ups for as many as nine uncapped players in a side led by Ben Stokes for the ODI series.
That outbreak comes as daily case-loads climb over 25,000 in what is now effectively a third wave, but with lower hospitalisations and deaths than previous surges. Restrictions for the general population have also eased and the majority of them will be lifted by July 19.
Pakistan's players are among the most-travelled during the pandemic, in England for a second summer running, and most of them have spent time in some form of a bio-secure bubble since the end of May. But their captain Babar Azam insisted before the first ODI in Cardiff that they didn't think at all about the prospect of calling the tour off, as England had themselves done on a tour of South Africa last winter.
"No, we didn't think about it, it didn't come into our minds at any time," Azam said. "The PCB and ECB have assured us that they will take care of the safety and health of all the squad members. We must understand that these are unprecedented times of Covid-19. I want to acknowledge my players who have spent the last 18 months in and out of bio-secure bubbles and we have prepared in that. For now we are focusing on cricket and tomorrow's game."
Azam said he was familiar with most of the new names in England's squad, though the abrupt and wholesale nature of the changes did leave the team with a little bit of homework to catch up with. "We know most of them but there were a couple of new faces in the squad and we sat together with the analyst, we worked on them, we have seen footage of their county matches," Azam said. "They may be new players but they are playing for England so we won't take them lightly. I know a few of them, having played in T20 Blast, and those we don't know we have researched their performances."
Suddenly though, the series does represent a real opportunity for Pakistan, who kickstarted their ODI Super League campaign with a 2-1 series win in South Africa earlier this year. In third place at the moment, a 3-0 win could see them displace England at the top of the table - and the chances of that are better than they were a couple of days ago.
"As a professional you have to get through these ups and downs. It's a global problem - we never thought about it. We're giving priority to our cricket. Not an ideal situation - but we have to understand this is the way for the last 18 months. Really give credit to my team who have been so positive throughout all this. We've been like this for 18 months and it's difficult, but the players deserve credit for it.
"We've been training for the last 10 days in Derby and have played 3-4 inter-squad practice games in that time," Azam said. "We haven't played ODIs for a while so we had to get into that mode. But the players are looking in good touch. We have good memories of Cardiff where we beat Sri Lanka and England [in the 2017 Champions Trophy] and we're looking forward to a good result tomorrow as well."