Ben Stokes will captain an all-new England side plucked from county cricket for the ODI series against Pakistan after the entire first-team squad and coaching staff was forced to isolate due an outbreak of Covid-19.
Seven members of the original party tested positive in Bristol on Monday evening, shortly after Boris Johnson had signposted the lifting of restrictions in England from 19 July. Three players and four staff are affected but the England and Wales Cricket Board has not made their names public.
The nature of England’s bubble – relaxed compared to last year but with players not allowed out of hotels – means the entiret squad has been forced to isolate as close contacts. Some of those who tested positive are said to be experiencing the early symptoms of Covid-19.
The dramatic development has forced Chris Silverwood, the head coach, to return from a pre-agreed break in Norfolk and select nine uncapped players in a fresh squad for the first ODI against Pakistan in Cardiff on Thursday.
The crowd will be capped at 3,000 as it sits under the Welsh government’s jurisdiction, while the second ODI at Lord’s on Saturday will be at 100% capacity and the third, at Edgbaston next Tuesday, is set at 80%. The ECB have said this is not expected to change at this stage.
Stokes, who was returning to full fitness with Durham after finger surgery in April, has been called up from his side’s County Championship fixture against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, along with a number of others playing in the current round of matches.
Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the ECB, said: “We have been mindful that the emergence of the Delta variant, along with our move away from the stringent enforcement of bio secure environments, could increase the chances of an outbreak.
“We made a strategic choice to try to adapt protocols in order to support the overall wellbeing of our players and management staff who have spent much of the last 14 months living in very restricted conditions.
“We also recognise the impact this news will have on our first-class counties and their men’s playing squads and thank them.”
John Simpson, the 32-year-old Middlesex wicketkeeper, is among the new faces in the fresh squad, along with seamers Tom Helm, (also Middlesex), Brydon Carse (Durham) and David Payne (Gloucestershire). Zak Crawley (Kent), Dan Lawrence (Essex), Phil Salt (Sussex) and Will Jacks (Surrey) are uncapped batsmen at ODI level, along with all-rounder Lewis Gregory (Somerset).
Alex Hales, the Nottinghamshire opener who has not featured for England since a failed recreational drugs test on the eve of the 2019 World Cup, has notably been omitted despite his form in white-ball cricket. A squad for the T20i series that starts at Trent Bridge on 16 July will be named in due course.
Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, said: “It’s a great opportunity to play on the biggest stage and for most of the players selected it’s not necessarily something they would have been expecting 24 hours ago. It’s an exciting group of players with some young talent and some players who have impressed at domestic level over a long period of time.