England will swap handshakes for fist bumps in Sri Lanka as they look to steer clear of any illnesses and make advances in the World Test Championship.
Joe Root’s players flew out of Heathrow on Monday night for a two-Test series that begins in Galle on 19 March, the tour having been cleared to proceed despite sporting events coming under increasing threat from the global spread of the coronavirus.
So far there has been just one confirmed case of Covid-19 in Sri Lanka. But after their recent 3-1 win in South Africa was nearly derailed at the start by a gastro bug that moved rapidly through the squad, England will remain vigilant regardless.
Root said: “After South Africa we are well aware of the importance of keeping contact to a minimum and we’ve been given some really sound and sensible advice from our medical team to help prevent spreading germs and bacteria.
“We are not shaking hands with each other – using instead the well-established fist bump – and we are washing hands regularly and wiping down surfaces using the antibacterial wipes and gels we’ve been given in our immunity packs.
“There is no suggestion that the tour will be affected. But of course it is an evolving situation so we are in regular contact with the authorities and will proceed as advised.”
It will be the first time England have played a two-match series in the new World Test Championship, the slightly convoluted scoring system of which makes each fixture worth 60 points apiece.
Secure a 2-0 win and Root’s men will move within striking distance of the top two spots that are currently occupied by India and Australia and will make up the showpiece final at Lord’s in 2021.
England are without Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, two of the three spinners who set up the 3-0 win in Sri Lanka 18 months ago, while Jack Leach, the third, is only just back after suffering from sepsis and flu this winter, as well as a recent calf twinge.
Root however is confident that Leach will go into the series “full of energy”, while the expectation is that Dom Bess, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley – three relative newcomers who shone in South Africa and have recently been in Australia with England Lions – will step up.
Root added: “As well as they did, this is another test for them and they will need to use other skills and manage different things over long periods of time to score runs and take wickets.
“They have all got a real hunger to learn and develop and as long as they keep taking that approach, I can see them continuing to get better as players.
“With these matches and then six Tests at home in the summer, it feels like a great opportunity to push for one of those top two spots [in the table].”