Chris Woakes has admitted to wondering if he and his England teammates were suffering from coronavirus during their recent Test series against South Africa.

The winter tour began in the middle of December and was immediately hampered by illness that spread through the camp. There were two bugs – one gastric and one which presented flu-like symptoms.

The majority of the players and staff were afflicted by one or both during the tour. Only Jack Leach was unable to recover and was forced to return home before the final Test having fallen ill at the start of the tour before the first warm-up match. However, Leach’s situation was complicated as he had not adequately recovered from illness picked up on the previous winter tour to New Zealand, which turned out to be sepsis.

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Symptoms were stomach issues, sore throats, colds, aching bodies and a lack of energy. It was also noted there were no reports of other guests at the team hotels falling ill, nor of any of the opposition South African players.

Common coronavirus symptoms are a persistent dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. Diarrhoea, which Woakes and almost all of the infected touring party suffered from, is not a symptom to look out but has been reported in some cases during this pandemic.

The England team were struck down with a bug during the tour (Getty)

As more data comes to light around Covid-19, better assessments are being made on when, where and how the virus spread. Last month, reports on unpublished Chinese government data suggested the first case dates back to 17 November.

South Africa’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed on 5 March after a 38-year old man who had travelled to Italy tested positive for the illness. He had arrived back to South Africa on 1 March and went into self-isolation two days later before being treated in hospital. England’s returned home soon after their final match of the tour which was a Twenty20 on 16 February.

“You do look back on it and kind of wonder I suppose,” answered Woakes when asked of the possibility the squad had suffered from coronavirus. “Obviously, we have no idea whether it was or it wasn’t.”

“But my symptoms during that time – and I was stuck in that room for nearly a week – were more gastro. Unfortunately, and I don’t want to say, it was diarrhea basically. That was the main symptom I was feeling but there were flu-type symptoms in there as well – whether that was down to dehydration and that side of things I’m not sure. Listening to the other guys, their symptoms were relatively similar. So who knows? Potentially.

“At the same time it would be wrong for us to sit here and say we definitely had it because the symptoms being suggested regarding coronavirus seem to be more with the cough. There are obviously fever-like symptoms as well so it’s a tricky one. But of course, it has crossed your mind.”

Woakes was one of the first to contract the bug. He and batsman Ollie Pope were ill before the first Test and spent Christmas Day confined to their rooms. Aside from both meeting up to watch day one of the Boxing Day Test, which England lost by 107 runs, they were kept apart from their teammates. Both would go on to play a part in the remaining three Tests, with Woakes playing the fourth and contributing three wickets and 32 runs, as the tourists turned things around to win the series 3-1.

The England management put in place the same measures of isolation and cleanliness currently being pushed by the government to restrict the spread of the bugs, such as those who were sick staying in their rooms and not mixing with other team members, with a steady supply of hand sanitiser supplied throughout the group. Handshakes were swapped out for fist bumps.

These were the measures put in place ahead of the tour to Sri Lanka in March, when coronavirus had made its way into Europe from Asia. However on 13 March England returned home after the tour was called off a week before the first of two Tests.

Woakes was not the only England player to fall ill (AFP via Getty Images)

With the domestic season suspended until May 28 at present, the England & Wales Cricket Board are devising plans for schedule cricket if and when the UK’s lockdown is lifted and sports are given the green light to continue with caution.

While considering potential issues over to get the likes of West Indies, Pakistan and Australia over to fulfill the originally scheduled fixtures – travelling being the biggest stumbling block – the ECB are also looking into providing “biosecure” venues.

This will mean players not leaving the complex of grounds for the duration of matches, thus requiring on-site accommodation which will see preference given to venues with onsite hotels such as Old Trafford, Headingley and the Ageas Bowl – something which was reported in The Daily Telegraph last week. It also means matches will be played behind closed doors with restrictions over crowds likely to remain in place until the end of the year.

Woakes says these options have not really been discussed by the players in any real depth, but there is a wider sense they understand the likeliest prospect of cricket this summer will be without any supporters in the stands.

“The guys have started to think about playing behind closed doors because it kind of looks like there is a high probability of that happening and guys are happy to do that. At the moment we are happy to get some form of normality back and playing cricket would be great.

“It would give the public something to watch and hopefully entertain some people who are missing it a lot. But at the same time we haven’t really spoken about what goes with that which is people being together for a considerable amount of time, guys having to play games quite close together – back-to-back – and not being able to leave a safe environment. Those sort of things haven’t really been discussed in depth which obviously they will need to be before it happens. But I think the players are happy to play behind closed doors if that is the only way for cricket to go ahead in the near future.”

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