Squad will be allowed to train in quarantine and avoid bio-secure bubble afterwards if Covid-free
A chance to “live as normal human beings” again is a huge attraction of England Women’s upcoming tour of New Zealand, captain Heather Knight says.
After spending a New Zealand Government-mandated 14 days in quarantine upon arriving in the country later this month – and provided no one tests positive for Covid-19 – England players will be able to go about their business as normal without having to stay in a bio-secure bubble as their hosts have managed to keep to a minimum cases of the virus that currently has the UK under another national lockdown.
Rules could change in response to Covid-19 alert level restrictions, but for now Knight and her players are holding on to hope as they prepare to fly out on January 24 for three ODIs and three T20Is in February and March.
“Once we get through that two weeks’ quarantine, if nothing changes, it’s going to be like normal life which, even cricket aside, is going to be amazing,” Knight said. “Just to be able to go out and go to a restaurant and go to a coffee shop and just do normal things.
“We’ve experienced this cricketers’ bubble life and it’s manageable but it’s not particularly fun – it’s pretty dull, to be honest. It’s obviously what we need to do at the moment, but just the carrot of being able to live normally and enjoy the amazing things that come with touring is something we’re massively excited to do.
“We’ve got that two-week quarantine but I think knowing that at the end of that we can play cricket and we can live as normal human beings is going to make it a lot easier sitting in a room for two weeks.”
Originally the 16-strong England squad was going to be able to train after spending four days in isolation upon arrival if there were no positive tests but, in response to the new variant of the disease which has caused the latest restrictions in the UK, New Zealand authorities have since said they can only train from the eighth day of the tour.
While serving two weeks in quarantine is a small price to pay for continuing to play the game they love while so many people are unable to play sport or even work, it is by no means easy. Having not been allowed to leave her hotel room in Australia for 14 days ahead of her WBBL stint with champions Sydney Thunder, Knight knows how tough it can be.
But the prospect of greater freedom for a team which has spent considerable periods of the past year stuck in their own houses and was only able to play a handful of T20Is during the home summer should help get them through.
“I can’t trick myself and not think about it too much because I know exactly what it’s like, which was my strategy last time,” Knight said. “It was it was tough in Australia but this time is going to be a little bit different.
“Being able to train towards the back end of the quarantine is going make a huge difference and I think there’s an outdoor space as well that can be used to to get out and about once we’ve tested negative after a few days. Yes, it’s tough. The girls are preparing for it. There’s lots of support in place for everyone, in terms of having strategies to cope with it and we’ve obviously experienced bubble life as well, which is kind of similar.”
England swept their hastily arranged T20I series against West Indies 5-0 in September. From March 3, they will come up against a New Zealand outfit captained by Sophie Devine, who broke the record for the fastest women’s T20 hundred on Thursday with a 36-ball ton for Wellington against Otago.
But it is the preceding ODI series starting on February 23 that Knight is really looking forward to against the hosts of the 2022 World Cup, where England will be defending champions.
“We haven’t played ODI cricket in over a year now and we’re a year out from what’s going to be huge year for us in all forms, but particularly ODI cricket with World Cup and the Ashes,” she said. “It’s a really important tour in the context of women’s cricket internationally as well, being able to get the game on, and so much hard work has gone into to getting it on as well.”
With Anya Shrubsole and Katie George missing the tour with knee and back injuries respectively, left-arm seamer Tash Farrant earned a recall to the squad two years after losing her central contract. Shrubsole’s absence also opens the way for Nat Sciver to stand in as vice-captain.
“There’s no doubt Nat’s a huge leader in the group for us,” Knight said. “She’s really flourished for me over the last two years. She’s someone that I’d go to, on and off the pitch, to chat things through and get her opinion on. I’m looking forward to having her by my side in New Zealand and bouncing things off [her]. I hope she doesn’t change a thing because she’s already a leader in this group.”
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo