Decision over start of Pakistan vs England first Test to be taken Thursday morning

England's captain Ben Stokes warms up along with team-mates - Vomiting bug in England squad means first Test against Pakistan may be delayed - Aamir Qureshi/AFP
England's captain Ben Stokes warms up along with team-mates - Vomiting bug in England squad means first Test against Pakistan may be delayed - Aamir Qureshi/AFP

The first Test between England and Pakistan is expected to go ahead tomorrow despite a sickness bug afflicting the touring party.

A final decision will be made tomorrow morning in Islamabad when the England medical staff assess the squad after a chaotic day. A meeting between the two cricket boards tonight agreed the match will be played as scheduled subject to medical clearance. A final call will be made at 6.30am tomorrow (2.30am UK time).

Some players were reporting feeling better and England are hopeful it is nothing more than a 24 hour bug after the majority of the playing XI failed to make it to nets on Wednesday.

If England are unable to field a competitive XI - for example enough batsmen and bowlers - then the game will be delayed until Friday but still played over five days. It would leave just a 48 hour turnaround between the first and second Test in Multan.

“The two boards made the decision based on medical advice from the England doctors, which revolved around the players’ health and welfare, agreeing that the England cricket team are able to select an XI for the first of the three ICC World Test Championship matches, which will be played at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium,” said a joint statement from ECB and PCB.

A decision on whether to postpone England’s first Test in Pakistan for 17 years will be made in the next couple of hours as medics assess the severity of a vomiting bug afflicting the touring squad.

“Who knows what will happen?" said Joe Root, who was one of the few players to make it to nets. "Whether there would be the possibility to delay it by a day, I don’t know. I’ve not spoken to anyone and I don’t know the ins and outs of it. It’s such a monumental tour and important series for so many reasons. We’ve waited 17 years to come to Pakistan to play a Test match, if it means waiting another day, is that the worst thing in the world?”

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There are three options. First, proceeding as normal. Second is to delay the Test by 24 hours and play a five-day game as normal, leaving just 48 hours turnaround before the next game in Multan. The third option is to delay the game and play a four-day Test which would leave the schedule unaffected but requires permission from the ICC because Test Championship matches have to be played over five days.

A decision will be made on Thursday morning before the team is due to leave the hotel for the ground two hours before the 10am start.

One of major concerns for England is the health of Jack Leach who takes immunosuppressant drugs to control his Crohn’s disease. He is one of those who did not make it to training and feared for his life when he was admitted to hospital on a tour to New Zealand in 2019 with gastroenteritis that developed into sepsis.

England may have to revise Test team

Ben Stokes, the England captain, was among those who remained at the team hotel in Islamabad and skipped the training session at the Rawalpindi Stadium due to sickness and diarrhoea.

“There’s going to have to be Marcus Trescothick, Rob Key and Brendon McCullum as the new top three for tomorrow,” joked Root. “I don’t think it is food poisoning or covid or anything like that, it is just one of those things that we have unfortunately picked up as a group.”

Stokes confidently named his XI on Tuesday handing a debut to Liam Livingstone but may have to revise that team.

Around 13-14 members of the touring party have been affected, with half of the playing squad of 16 among those feeling ill.

Stokes does not have a nominated deputy and Joe Root said he will not stand in if the captain is ruled out. Root had symptoms on Tuesday but felt better on Wednesday giving England hope that the bug clears quickly.

Only half a team at nets

England have brought their own chef on tour to try and avoid picking up bugs after players were unwell during the Twenty20 series in September. Omar Meziane has worked with the England football team and has overseen food preparation at the team hotel. He has proved a popular addition to the squad among the players but has not been able to prevent them falling ill, although it is unclear if the illness is food-related.

The England squad were badly affected by a bug before the first Test of a tour to South Africa in late 2019 and lost the match in Pretoria, with many struggling to get through the game.

Stokes named his team to the media after nets on Tuesday but it is not official until the team sheets are handed to the match referee at the toss.

Ollie Pope stood in for Stokes as captain against the Lions last week and was one of those players who is feeling fine and netted on Wednesday morning. Keaton Jennings, Root, Harry Brook and Zak Crawley were the only other England players to net.

The sickness affected the backroom team too with Peter Sim, the strength and conditioning coach, giving the batsmen throwdowns in place of assistant coach Paul Collingwood.

Aside from the XI named by Stokes, England have four other players in the squad: Will Jacks, Rehan Ahmed, Jamie Overton and Jennings. Mark Wood is here but has a hip injury.

Root was ill on a tour to South Africa in 2019 and ended up in hospital in Sydney in 2018 when he batted with a stomach bug. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It is horrible, running on and off the field all the time,” he said. “But sometimes it is part and parcel of where you are at as a team. That [Centurion 2019] was very unfortunate because a lot of us got ill during the Test match not going into the game. But hopefully it is not something we have to contend with and everyone will turn up well tomorrow and we can enjoy what is an exciting series and have cricket as a talking point.”

'This tour is about adapting'

James Anderson is the only member of the squad to have experienced playing Test cricket in Pakistan, when he toured the country with England in 2005.

However, England's all-time leading wicket taker said that experience would count for little now.

Seventeen years is a long time," the 40-year-old said. "It's a completely different team we're playing against, completely different conditions.

"It's about adapting when we get out there. We talk a little bit about the opposition but mainly concentrate on what we do well - that's what we did in the summer."