THE England men's Test squad are crossing their fingers that they have avoided a wider Covid-19 outbreak, after Moeen Ali's positive test cast an early shadow on their tour of Sri Lanka.

The full squad - which features Somerset spin bowler Jack Leach, as well as former Somerset players Dom Bess and Jos Buttler - received a clean bill of health prior to departure and again after quick turnaround testing on arrival in Hambantota on Sunday, only for the more sophisticated PCR process to show Moeen was carrying the virus.

Moeen will now self-isolate for a 10-day period up to January 13, and with the first Test in Galle due to begin the following day he is a serious doubt to compete with Bess and Leach for a place in the team for that match.

All-rounder Chris Woakes, meanwhile, has also been advised to self-isolate for a minimum of seven days after being identified as a 'close contact' of Moeen's.

England will hope the strict measures in place on the trip have been successful in preventing further infection, with the touring party hosed down with disinfectant spray after disembarking their charter flight and then kept in solitary quarantine in the Shangri La Hotel for the past 48 hours.

That restriction was due to be lifted on Tuesday, pending a further batch of tests, but plans for the team to begin training have been delayed until Wednesday (January 6) at the earliest.

Should Moeen remain the only impacted player, Joe Root's men would be able to pick up their plans with only a minor delay and a reduced spin department, but further infections would present an altogether more difficult equation.

England have been forced to abandon their last two international assignments due to the pandemic - the original Sri Lanka series back in March and last month's white-ball trip to South Africa, where a spate of positive results derailed the ODI leg.

Two English representatives received 'false positives' during the latter, but those came from less sophisticated lateral flow tests, and there no suspicion of an incorrect diagnosis where Moeen is concerned.

The ECB will transport the 33-year-old from the current team hotel to a private establishment in Galle on Tuesday, meaning he would theoretically be available to line up in the first Test the day after his isolation window ends.

That seems unlikely, though, relying as it does on him staying asymptomatic and being deemed ready to take part in a five-day contest in oppressive heat with no real conditioning work or match practice under his belt.

Spin is sure to play a major role on one of the world's most renowned turning tracks, meaning Bess and Leach can now be all but certain of their places, unless England choose to promote one of their three reserve spinners - Mason Crane, Amar Virdi and Matt Parkinson - into the team.

On the eve of the tour, skipper Root discussed the possibility of receiving confirmed cases and suggested that such an outcome would not in itself be a threat to the series despite the fate of England's previous two overseas attempts.

"It's a really dangerous virus and, wherever we will be, we will be in contact with it in some shape or form," Root said.

"If so we have to manage it as best as possible. We're as best prepared as we can be for it and we're fully aware of what we're getting ourselves into.

"I don't think it [a confirmed case] will end in an automatic end of the tour."


SOMERSET T20 captain Lewis Gregory helped his Brisbane Heat side climb to sixth place in the Big Bash League standings, after a five-wicket win over Sydney Thunder on Monday morning.

All-rounder Gregory came into the match off the back of taking 1-39 (dismissing fellow Englishman James Vince) and scoring 31* off 16 balls as the Heat defeated Sydney Sixers by four wickets on Saturday.

Against the Thunder, the Somerset man took 1-34 in dismissing Daniel Sams for 37, but he was unable to add any more runs come the Heat's reply.

Joe Denly (50) and Joe Burns (52) ensured victory, however.

The Heat - who now have three wins and four losses from seven matches - lie one point behind fifth-placed Adelaide Strikers in the table, with the top five teams qualifying for the play-offs.