South African cricket players arrive at the airport in Karachi on Saturday. AFP
Gulf Today Report
South Africa's Test cricket squad had to fly to Pakistan on a hastily-arranged charter flight after their commercial flights were cancelled — and COVID-19 restrictions could further complicate the team's plans, it emerged on Sunday.
The 21-member team and support staff arrived in Karachi on Saturday for a two-Test series against Pakistan, starting on Jan.26.
Meanwhile, the Cricket South Africa (CSA) on Sunday informed that the Proteas team members have tested negative for the novel coronavirus in the first round of testing conducted upon their arrival in the metropolis.
"The Proteas Test squad has arrived safely in Karachi to begin preparation for their historical, two-match series against the hosts beginning on Jan.26," the board said in a statement.
It said the touring side underwent COVID-19 testing upon arrival at the team hotel and has been quarantining in their rooms since then. "The team will commence with training as a full squad today," CSA added.
A team spokesperson confirmed on Sunday that CSA had to make urgent late arrangements after being informed on Thursday that a Gulf-based airline had temporarily suspended flights to and from South Africa for "operational reasons."
The South African players had been due to travel in groups to a Gulf country from the airline's hubs in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban before travelling on to Karachi.
Cricket South Africa were able to organise a charter flight to enable the team to depart as planned on Friday night, flying directly to Karachi.
With COVID-19 restrictions severely limiting international travel options from South Africa, CSA now has a major logistical and cost problem if a planned Twenty20 international series, due to follow the Test matches, is to go ahead.
It had been expected that an almost completely different squad would play in the three T20 matches, with the Test squad returning to South Africa to prepare for a planned series against Australia.
The Test series in Pakistan is due to end on Feb.8 with the T20 internationals scheduled on Feb.11-14. The home Test series against Australia, which has not yet been confirmed, is likely to start in early March, two weeks later than originally planned.
But a CSA source told AFP that COVID-19 protocols would make it necessary for the South African Test squad to return home immediately after the second Test in Pakistan.
Allrounder Faheem Ashraf and Mohammad Rizwan were dropped off successive deliveries before featuring in a 52-run sixth-wicket stand which guided the home team to 129-6 in the second innings at stumps.
Set a daunting 370-run target, South Africa finished the fourth day on 127-1 with Markram on 59 and Dussen unbeaten on 48. The tourists will need another 243 runs to level the series on Monday. Rizwan's masterclass helped Pakistan add 169 runs for the loss of four wickets in the day before being bowled out for 298.
Pakistan and England cricket teams on Wednesday observed a one-minute silence before the start of the first Test at the Old Trafford as mark of respect for all those affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Fitness has been an important part of our strategy as a team since I took on the role of head coach last September and we have seen the benefits in the two Tests so far," Misbah wrote in a column for the Pakistan Cricket Board's website.
The Pakistan Cricket Board also said that the decision to reschedule Monday’s game was made with an aim to allow players "sufficient time to relax, refocus and regroup following the testing and in the best interest of the competition.”
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