England and Pakistan are in discussions over a possible delayed start to their historic Test series opener in Rawalpindi after “six or seven” of the tourists were laid low by a virus just 24 hours out from the first ball.
Ben Stokes had boldly named his XI for the Thursday’s first Test in Rawalpindi two days in advance, confirming a debut for Liam Livingstone and handing Ben Duckett a recall at opener six years on from the last of his four appearances.
But late changes and even a 24-hour delay to the match are now possible, with a mystery “bug” having swept through the camp and only Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Keaton Jennings, Ollie Pope and Joe Root present during Wednesday’s final training session at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium.
While the session was optional, an England spokesperson confirmed that “13 to 14 members” of the tour party were suffering from symptoms of a “bug”, including “six or seven” of the 16-man playing squad. This includes Stokes himself, while Jack Leach, who manages Crohn’s disease, is also understood to be suffering symptoms. Will Jacks and Rehan Ahmed, the two reserve spinners, also missed nets.
Food poisoning and Covid-19 have both been ruled out by the England team doctor and the illness is not thought to be too serious at this stage. Root was feeling under the weather the previous day but now appears one of the few guaranteed to be fit in time for the scheduled start after improving overnight.
Had the bug struck on the morning of the match, England would have been unable to field an XI without bringing members of the coaching staff out of retirement. As such, the England and Wales Cricket Board and their hosts are monitoring the situation. The match – England’s first Test in Pakistan for 17 years – could even be pushed back by another 24 hours should others recover less quickly than Root.
“I felt unwell yesterday and woke up feeling much better today so hopefully it is a 24-hour thing,” said Root. “It is just one of those things that we have unfortunately picked up as a group. We’ve tried to do everything we can to get right for this game but sometimes life throws you these things at you. We have to see how we rock up as a squad tomorrow [Thursday].”
Root ruled out a possible return to the captaincy just seven months after standing down from the role, pointing to Pope having lead England against the Lions during last week’s one-off warm-match in Abu Dhabi. Stokes has never named a vice captain, although Stuart Broad, missing this tour due to paternity leave, was believed to be unofficial deputy during the recent home summer.
England have looked to reduce the chance of illness on the trip by bringing their own chef to Pakistan. Omar Meziane, who has previously worked with England’s football team and the Harlequins rugby squad, is overseeing food preparation at the team hotel in Islamabad and also among those taken ill.