Williamson, New Zealand’s captain, took a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) after experiencing minor symptoms on Thursday, and will now begin five days of isolation.
Tom Latham will captain the team in his absence, while Hamish Rutherford, currently playing county cricket for Leicestershire, has been drafted in by New Zealand and will link up with the squad in Nottingham on Friday morning.
“It’s such a shame for Kane to be forced to withdraw on the eve of such an important match,” Gary Stead, New Zealand’s head coach, said. “We’re all feeling for him at this time and know how disappointed he will be.
“Hamish was with the Test squad earlier in the tour and has been playing for the Leicestershire Foxes in the T20 Vitality Blast.”
The rest of New Zealand’s touring party have returned negative RATs and will continue following the tour health protocols of symptom reporting and subsequent testing if required.
This is not the first time Covid has disrupted New Zealand’s tour, with three members of the party – Henry Nicholls, Blair Tickner and Shane Jurgensen – forced to isolate after testing positive in Brighton ahead of the opening warm-up fixture against Sussex.
Quite apart from the frustration of missing a crucial contest, with New Zealand 1-0 down in the three-match series, the development is a setback in Williamson’s own rehabilitation, after he was forced to miss New Zealand’s previous five Tests due to a long-standing tendon injury in his left elbow.
Latham stood in as captain for all four Tests of New Zealand’s home summer against Bangladesh and South Africa, as well as the second Test of their tour of India in November, with Williamson limited to 20-minute nets sessions in a bid to manage his recuperation.
And though he insisted the injury was “significantly improved” ahead of the Lord’s Test, Williamson made scores of 2 and 15 at Lord’s, to go with his duck in New Zealand’s warm-up match in Chelmsford.
He came into the series on the back of a difficult IPL too, scoring 216 runs at 19.63 and a strike-rate of 93.50 for Sunrisers Hyderabad before returning to New Zealand for the birth of his child.
New Zealand were already facing a selection conundrum for the second Test, following the heel injury that has ruled Colin de Grandhomme, their pivotal allrounder, out of the rest of the series. Nicholls is expected to be fit for selection, after his recovery from a calf injury was delayed by his own Covid diagnosis, and should slot back into the middle order.
Neil Wagner and Matt Henry are in contention for an extra seamer’s berth, following the under-use of the spinner Ajaz Patel at Lord’s.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket