The use of a previously off-limits nets facility at Newlands has emerged as a possible source of the Covid-19 infection within the England camp, as the ECB hit back at claims from officials at Western Province that its players had breached the teams' biosecure environment for a practice session on the eve of Friday's scheduled first ODI.
In an email sent on Thursday, December 3, and seen by ESPNcricinfo, WP informed CSA, ECB and the Claremont Police, who are in charge of maintaining the teams' bio-bubble, that they could not be held liable for the safety or health of the England team, who opted to practice in a nets facility adjoining a construction site at the Kelvin Grove End of the ground.
"Please be advised that the England cricket team has not adhered to the arrangements as agreed by all in the ESSPC [Event Security and Safety Planning Committee] meetings," the email read. "The practice nets next to the construction site is not allowed to be used on practice days. Three cages of nets was set up on the square on the field. This serves to inform you that the England Cricket Team has accessed and used the nets today (3 December 2020) at their own risk. WPCA and the ESSPC will not be held liable or responsible for the safety and health of the England Cricket Team."
In response, an ECB spokesman told ESPNcricinfo that the session had arisen due to the "unacceptable" standard of the three practice pitches provided on the square at Newlands, and that CSA had accepted England's request to put up a security cordon to facilitate the use of the nets as per similar arrangements during the T20I series on November 28.
"On arrival at Newlands on 3 December, we advised the venue that the three nets provided on the main pitch were not of a standard for conducive practice, as per the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the respective boards," an ECB statement said. "Batsmen were unable to face seam bowlers on the nets on the main pitch as the surfaces were rendered and unacceptable.
"We requested with CSA that we would like to use the practice nets and that we would create a security cordon to ensure the players and coaches could enter the facility safely, as done previously on 28 November. This was confirmed by England's Security Team, the Team Operations Manager and the Team Doctor. We were satisfied with this outcome and we were able to practice in the net facility safely.
"The team also used the main outfield for fielding drills, a seam bowlers bowl through pitch and a number of nets were used for range-hitting against spin bowlers and coaches throws.
"As far as the England touring party are concerned, the safety and health of our players and coaches was not compromised."
The nets at Newlands are currently out of bounds due to the construction of an office block at the Kelvin Grove End of the ground. The building site is attended to by several workers throughout the day. When South African players, including Andile Phehlukwayo and David Miller, who missed the T20 series, and some support staff attempted to have a net after Friday's postponed first ODI, they were sent back and instructed to return to their hotel rooms.
At the time, a third South African player had just tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the first ODI to be pushed back. On Saturday, two members of the Vineyard Hotel staff, who do not work in the same area and have not left the premises since November 16, also tested positive, prompting the entire England touring party to be retested. England returned two "unconfirmed" positive results, but have sought to get the tests analysed by doctors in London. The two England cases meant Sunday's ODI in Paarl was abandoned.
The fate of the rest of the series, which has now been reduced to two ODIs, hinges on the analysis of England's results. Should positive cases be confirmed, those infected and their close contacts will have to quarantine in South Africa for 10 days before leaving for the UK, which could impact on Big Bash and Christmas plans. If the results of the tests are negative, the series could be completed with back-to-back ODIs on Tuesday and Wednesday.