Pat Cummins has been ruled out of the second Ashes Test at the Adelaide Oval, just hours before it was due to begin, after being deemed a close contact of a COVID case.
Australia’s captain was at a restaurant on Wednesday night when a person at a nearby table discovered they had tested positive to the virus.
Cummins immediately left the venue and notified officials, and has since tested negative for COVID-19.
But his close proximity to the positive case means he has been judged a close contact, and forced to isolate for seven days.
In Cummins’ absence, Steve Smith will captain Australia for the first time since the 2018 ball-tampering scandal. Michael Neser was to make his Test debut when the match began in Adelaide at 3pm Thursday (AEDT).
Cummins tweeted his disappointment in being ruled out of the second Ashes Test, but said he was “really excited” to see Neser get his opportunity for Australia.
Amazingly, Australia narrowly escaped having its whole front-line bowling attack wiped out due to the restaurant visit.
Both Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon were also present, but were seated outside and therefore deemed casual contacts. They were also tested on Thursday morning, but are free to play against England under South Australian health rules.
“Cummins is understandably very disappointed not to be able to captain Australia for the day-night Test in Adelaide,” Cricket Australia said.
“We anticipate that he will be available to play in the third men’s Ashes Test at the MCG in Melbourne [on Boxing Day].”
Early on Thursday, SA Premier Steven Marshall was promoting the day-night Test as “an event that will inject millions into our economy, support local jobs and give cricket fans something to cheer about”. Shortly before Cricket Australia’s statement was released, he said “SA Health are working through that with CA”.
“I only just heard the news about Pat Cummins … this morning,” he said.
“He is, of course, our captain, a great player, but of course SA Health are going to have to work through those issues with Cricket Australia [and] we haven’t got too many hours now until the first bowl [sic] is delivered.”
There is no suggestion any of the cricketers has done anything wrong, with incoming travellers into Adelaide from NSW and Victoria not required to quarantine after an initial COVID test.
Without Cummins in the side, Travis Head will take up the role of vice-captain, after once holding the role in conjunction with the quick three years ago.
Cummins, the world’s top-ranked Test bowler, claimed a five-wicket haul in the series-opening win at the Gabba. His absence comes as massive blow to Australia, considering Josh Hazlewood is already out with a side strain.
With Hazlewood unavailable, Cummins was expected to reclaim the new ball for the pink-ball match having taken 46 wickets at an average of 16.23 in day-night Tests,
Adelaide has had a rise in COVID cases in the past week. There were 25 reported on Wednesday – the most for South Australia in a single day in more than 18 months – and another 24 on Thursday.
The state has also confirmed six infections of the Omicron variant.
Players are not in strict bubbles for the Adelaide Test, with both Australia and England players wanting as many freedoms as possible on the tour.
But the Cummins incident does call into question what protocols will be required for the next two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney, where case numbers are beyond 1000 a day.
Officials would also be keen to avoid a repeat of the cancelled Test between England and India this year, after fears of an outbreak in the India camp.
India coach Ravi Shastri has since denied claims it was spread at the launch of his book in London, where he and others mingled with the public.
– with AAP