England tour to Sri Lanka - Mickey Arthur 'really positive' fixtures will go ahead

Sri Lanka coach says cricket may as well "wait for a vaccine" if home series cannot be fulfilled

Mickey Arthur smiles, Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Harare, 4th day, January 30, 2020

Mickey Arthur smiles  •  Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Mickey Arthur, Sri Lanka's coach and a member of the ICC's cricket committee, is insistent that more international cricket must be played over the next few months if the game is to rebound from a difficult year.
Although Sri Lanka has largely kept a lid on Covid-19 transmissions through the course of the year, the men's national team has been out of action since February, with series against England, India, South Africa and Bangladesh all postponed.
There are two possible international tours coming up - a Test tour to South Africa in December and January, plus a home Test series against England later in January. That England series is the two-Test tour that was postponed from March this year, and which the boards have tentatively agreed to reschedule for January.
"We need to get cricket back up and running otherwise we may as well shut the whole thing down and wait for a vaccine," Arthur told the PA news agency. "I'm really positive. I'm hoping we can fulfil our fixtures in South Africa come December and then have England over here to start a really busy 2021.
"We are an industry that needs to be playing, and being broadcast, to keep the lifeblood of the game going," he said.
"The government [in Sri Lanka] has done a remarkable job. We have been able to go out, go to a restaurant or sip a gin and tonic on the Galle Face, but we've had no international cricket."
The latest postponement - the home Test series against Bangladesh - was especially frustrating for Arthur and the Sri Lanka team, largely because the players had been training for months and were described as "cherry-ripe" for action, by Arthur.
That tour did not go ahead because Bangladesh would not agree to the extremely strict quarantine protocols players and officials were asked to undergo by the Sri Lankan government. Where foreign players traveling to the UK during the English summer had been allowed to train during their quarantine, visitors to Sri Lanka are required to remain in their rooms for two weeks, prompting concerns about deterioration of fitness levels. That was also cited by Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, as a sticking point before January's tour is ratified.
"We have to do it or boards are going to be put under more and more pressure," said Arthur. "Already we can look at the sight of people losing jobs at the ECB and Cricket Australia and it's really sad.
"I understand the bigger picture and I'm not here to push cricket from the rooftop - people are losing their lives and losing their jobs out there - but from a cricket sense we need to play."
Although Sri Lanka's government has generally drawn praise for its handling of the pandemic, it was felt within the team and coaching staff that health authorities could have allowed a more lenient quarantine for Bangladesh in order to make that tour viable, particularly as high-profile cricket had already begun in England, Australia and the UAE. Health authorities had argued, however, that it is their insistence on these protocols that had protected the Sri Lankan public from the kinds of outbreaks seen overseas.
It seems unlikely that England will tour if there is no relaxing of the quarantine protocols, but SLC is hopeful that the governement will relent in time to confirm that series. The England tour is worth much more to SLC than the Bangladesh one had been. The other complicating factor with Bangladesh - that players in contact with the likely touring squad had tested positive for Covid-19 in the weeks before the team was set to travel - may not be in play for England either.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf