England's cricketers will play two Tests behind closed doors in Galle in January, following a period of quarantine in Hambantota, after the schedule for their rearranged tour of Sri Lanka was confirmed by the ECB on Wednesday.
The tour, which is England's penultimate series in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, had to be postponed in March following the escalation of the Covid-19 outbreak, which caused the abandonment of that original tour midway through England's warm-up game in Colombo.
The details of the rearranged trip, for which bio-security and travel protocols have been agreed, was subject to some speculation in recent weeks, with the ECB having to postpone their original confirmation of the arrangements on December 2 due to the need for further ratification from Sri Lanka's ministry of health and Sri Lanka Cricket.
The squad will arrive in Sri Lanka on January 2, on a chartered flight from London to Hambantota in the south of the island, where they will be permitted to train and prepare for five days from January 5-9 at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium.
The first Test will take place between January 14-18, with the second Test following on January 22-26 before the squad departs from Hambantota the following day.
England's Test squad is expected to be confirmed in the coming days, and comes in the wake of the abandonment of England's white-ball tour of South Africa, due to concerns about the bio-secure integrity of the team hotel in Cape Town.
One absentee from the squad may prove to be Rory Burns, who indicated in an interview last week that he may skip the tour to attend the birth of his first child. Jonny Bairstow, who last played a Test in South Africa 12 months ago, is a likely inclusion, having already withdrawn from his BBL deal with Melbourne Stars.
Jofra Archer is another player who may be rested from the Sri Lanka series, having spent most of the preceding five months in bio-secure environments during the English summer, the IPL and the T20I leg of the South Africa tour, while Ollie Pope's availability is unclear following an operation on his shoulder.
Speaking in the wake of the South Africa tour abandonment, Ashley Giles, England's team director, re-iterated that player welfare was the board's primary concern in the current climate, adding that mental health screening would be factored into forthcoming selections, with a tour of India also coming up in February and March before the impending return of the English season and the 2021 IPL.
"These are very difficult environments, you are away for long periods, it is tough for everyone and those layers of bio-security just add a different level of anxiety," Giles said.
"These guys have been living in bubbles for long periods of time and their mental health and well-being is the absolute priority for us. If we consistently say that's the most important thing for us, when we're tested we can't move away from that."
Sri Lanka are due to arrive in South Africa next week, ahead of the Boxing Day Test at Centurion. With the tour due to finish in Johannesburg on January 7, only a week before the first Test against England, officials at SLC are understood to be concerned about the implications if a Covid outbreak does impact on the England visit, which is vital to the board's finances.
However, an ECB spokesman told ESPNcricinfo that there had been no consideration given to an extended quarantine period between the two tours.
The series will be the first international cricket staged in Sri Lanka since West Indies toured in March 2020. Bangladesh had been due to travel for a three-Test series, but the tour was repeatedly postponed.
England in Sri Lanka, fixtures:
1st Test: January 14-18
2nd Test: January 22-26
Both matches behind closed doors in Galle