Quinton de Kock
has described playing cricket in the time of Covid-19 as "unsettling" as South Africa prepare for at least three more bio-bubbles this summer. Next up is a historic visit to Pakistan, which will also include extra layers of security for South Africa's first tour since 2007.
With South Africa currently under Level 3 restrictions (with Level 5 being the strictest) and the lockdown likely to tighten in the face of a surging second wave of infections, de Kock said the situation is on the players' minds, even though there is little they can do about it.
"There is a lot of nerves that goes around when it comes to the bubble - lots of small things get into your mind; things that you're not used to in life," he said after victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka. "One day we could be living kind of normally and the next you're in lockdown. Where do we go from there?
"We're stuck in a bubble, and we could be stuck in a lockdown in some place for a certain period of time, which is the worst case scenario. But, as a normal person, that's the way you think about things. Bubbles just make tours longer because of the quarantine period. You stay in your room for a certain amount of time. You get out when we are declared safe. It's very unsettling. I don't know how long it can last for. But, for now, you try and deal with it in the best way possible."
South African cricket was largely unaffected when the coronavirus pandemic first struck last March, because their summer was at its end, but has since come face-to-face with the difficulties of playing at this time. Last month, England's limited-overs tour was cut short before the ODIs after concerns about the integrity of the bubble as three South African players and two hotel staff tested positive, as well as two members of the England camp (who were lager confirmed negative). That necessitated stricter measures for the Sri Lanka series.
Both teams have been housed at the Irene Country Club, a large estate with plenty of outdoor space (including a dam for fishing) near Pretoria, and South Africa's coach Mark Boucher said they had created a "family feel". Some players, like Faf du Plessis and de Kock, also had their immediate family staying with them but South Africa's temporary Test captain still found the situation unusual and is looking forward to an escape.
"We are probably only going to be home for two weeks in the next three months, which is quite a challenge," de Kock said. "Even though we're in South Africa, we're still in a bubble. It's not ideal but it is what it is."
South Africa will have a week off before travelling to Pakistan on January 15. Their two-Test, three-T20 series starts on January 26.
While Boucher described the confines of a tour to the subcontinent as something he is used to, he was referring to the security measures of trips to Pakistan pre-2007, which none of the current crop have experienced, and which de Kock sounded wary of.
"There's two sides to it," de Kock said. "I'm excited to get there and play cricket. It's a new challenge. But the rest of it, the off-the-field stuff, is another sort of challenge. The lockdown is going to be the hardest challenge that we're going to have on our plates out there."
Of course, there is also the cricket to consider, which will be challenging for a South Africa side that have just won their first Test series since 2019 and is in a rebuilding phase. The 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka needs to be assessed in the context of injuries to seven first-choice tour members, which is what de Kock is doing.
"We won the series and we won it quite convincingly but I don't think we played our best cricket," de Kock said. "We put ourselves under unnecessary pressure a lot of times."
South Africa's bowlers did not always manage to keep Sri Lanka under control, while their batting suffered one noteworthy collapse - 9 for 84 at the Wanderers - and South Africa have acknowledged there is work to do including finding a permanent Test captain. de Kock has accepted the job for this season and all indications are that he will be ready to give it up when the right person comes to the fore.
"I still don't see myself going further unless they haven't found someone who can take over," he said. "People will start putting up their hands and guys start asking the right questions. I am sure a leader will pop up somewhere. I am happy just doing the rest of the summer but if needs be that I go a little bit longer then so be it. If somebody really steps up and shows the leadership qualities then they can take over."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent