England players have been instructed not to sign autographs or pose for selfies with fans during their Test tour of Sri Lanka in a bid to insulate the squad from coronavirus.
The England team have been on the island – which recorded its second confirmed case overnight – for just over a week and have stepped up existing precautions ahead of the first Test in Galle on March 19.
Between 3,000-5,000 supporters, many of them retired, are due to fly to Sri Lanka and they have been warned the usual level of interaction they have come to expect from their heroes has been affected by medical advice.
Coronavirus Update: The England tour team in Sri Lanka has put in place several precautions.— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) March 11, 2020
Joe Root’s side are typically happy to sign shirts and bats as well as appearing in photographs but have been instructed to keep their distance from those arriving from the United Kingdom. Interactions with the media have already been impacted, with a two-metre buffer zone implemented for any group interviews.
A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board read: “Due to the ongoing situation regarding the current coronavirus outbreak around the world, the England men’s Test team, currently touring Sri Lanka, kindly requests all supporters joining the tour to maintain good levels of hygiene as advised by the World Health Organisation and the NHS, to avoid possible infection and spreading.
“The touring party is now taking positive steps to reduce the risk of its health by limiting public engagements for its players and management team. England players and staff have been asked to avoid any unnecessary public engagements, and temporarily avoid casual supporter interaction such as selfies or autographs.
“Whilst we acknowledge that this will be disappointing for some supporters, we stress that this a measure to protect the ongoing well-being of the England Test squad and is a decision which has not been taken lightly.
“Following the world health agency’s advice, and in order to protect the players and, in turn, the integrity and continuation of the Sri Lanka Test tour, the team has put in place several precautions, leading to a number of normal activities being cancelled for the foreseeable future.
“As a result, the touring party is now taking positive steps to reduce the risk of its health by limiting public engagements for its players and management team.”
Handshakes between squad members, officials and opposition were already banned, with ‘fist bumps’ the new preferred greeting.
England are preparing for a first-class warm-up fixture against a President’s XI on Thursday, when they are hoping to play a full-strength side in preparation for the series opener.
There are a couple of question marks – with a late check due on the calf injury that kept Jack Leach out of the previous tour match and a three-way race between Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Saqib Mahmood for one seam bowling spot.
One player who is certain of his place after averaging 88.66 in the recent series win in South Africa is Surrey’s Ollie Pope.
That represents a major change in status from England’s last tour here in 2018, when the 22-year-old was so far from selection that he was sent to join the England Lions in the United Arab Emirates.
There's been a lot of press and a lot of talk about what I could go and be, and I'd love to fulfil those expectations.Ollie Pope
“I wasn’t sure last time where I really stood in the pecking order. I didn’t actually finish the tour in the end so, first things first, hopefully this time I can get to the end of the tour,” he said with a smile.
“You understand in international cricket things can change quickly. When you’re the new kid coming in, the pressure is on to keep your place in the side and if people see you do well the next pressure is to maintain that.
“Everyone who gets that sniff of international cricket and has a sniff of success – that gives you confidence to go on and be even hungrier. There’s been a lot of press and a lot of talk about what I could go and be, and I’d love to fulfil those expectations.”