JOE ROOT’S plans for the First Test have been plunged into chaos by an illness epidemic sweeping the England camp.
Captain Root himself is one of the latest casualties with almost half the squad now struck by flu-like symptoms.
The final practice match against South Africa A beginning on Friday has been downgraded from first-class status to a friendly because England don’t know which players will be fit to take the field and when.
Fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad and spinner Jack Leach were too unwell to feature in the opening two-day practice match.
A team source revealed last night the trio are actually feeling WORSE rather than getting better.
Now at least three more players - believed to include Root, batsman Joe Denly and bowler Chris Woakes - have joined the sick list.
Assistant-coach Graham Thorpe and fielding coach Carl Hopkinson are also confined to their rooms.
Even if the players recover by the time England face South Africa on Boxing Day, they will be seriously short of match practice.
The symptoms include a sore throat, cold, aching bodies and lack of energy. There have been no reports of other guests at the team hotel in Johannesburg or members of the opposition suffering similar sickness.
Team medics are not sure where the bug has come from. One theory is that it was contracted on the 11-hour flight to South Africa and the fact that Johannesburg is at 5,000 feet altitude - which takes a few days’
acclimatisation - has slowed recovery.
The team source added: “Archer, Broad and Leach started feeling flu-like symptoms two or three days ago and have got progressively worse. They remain in quarantine.
“Two or three other players plus two members of the back room staff are also feeling unwell with similar symptoms. We hope for an improvement in their wellbeing over the next 48 or 72 hours.
“The ECB would like to thank Cricket South Africa for its flexibility in changing the status of the match against South Africa A. Under normal circumstances, we wanted the match to be first-class but illness in the camp
made this very problematic.
“The change allows us to rotate players as and when they are feeling better. At this stage, we just don’t know who will be fit to take the field and on what day of the match.”