England’s cricketers arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday to resume a Test tour cancelled in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, in what officials hope will be a “massive boost” for match-starved cricket fans.
A British Airways charter flight carrying the players and support staff landed in Mattala, in the south of the Indian Ocean island, where they underwent antigen tests.
Joe Root’s men had the small airport to themselves as Sri Lanka has closed its airspace to scheduled commercial airlines. Only a handful of repatriation flights and charters are allowed into Sri Lanka since May under strict health controls.
“We are very excited about the Galle Tests,” Root told a small group of cameramen allowed into the terminal for their arrival.
Airport staff in white hazmat suits sprayed the hands and footwear of the visitors and their luggage before they were allowed into the terminal for coronavirus tests.
Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket, Ashley Giles, said the team looked forward to playing at the seaside Galle stadium adjoining a colonial-era fort.
“To play in Galle will be very special –- it is one of the iconic venues in world cricket,” he said in a statement. “The past 10 months have been uncertain for us all, but having international cricket returning to Sri Lanka will be a massive boost for cricket fans all over the world.”
Bat for charity
The team will not interact with locals, but sign cricket bats which will be auctioned to raise money for two charities supporting victims of sexual violence in Sri Lanka, the British High Commission said.
Sri Lanka Cricket said the team’s hotel in the island’s southern district of Hambantota will be off limits for locals as part of quarantine regulations.
During the quarantine period, the England squad will split into two teams in order to play a practice match, a SLC official said.
The team’s aircraft was permitted to enter Sri Lanka despite a ban on all flights and passengers from the UK following the discovery of a new, infectious coronavirus strain.
The England cricket board confirmed their players and support staff had tested negative for the coronavirus prior to leaving.
England abandoned their two-match Test tour of Sri Lanka in March on the second day of a practice match as the pandemic spread.
They will now play their two Tests starting on January 14 at the Galle stadium without any spectators.
Sri Lanka had just six reported cases when England pulled out in March, but the team returned to an island which now has over 44,000 infections and 211 deaths.
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