England cricket’s leaders have left open the possibility – however remote – of not making the trip for the Ashes, while revealing they will make a final decision on the touring party this week.
Such a scenario would be a disaster for Cricket Australia, a little less than two years after it sent the national team to England for a limited overs series to avert a similar broadcast rights firestorm during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia’s cricketers will find out later this week whether England agree to biosecurity plans for the Ashes.Credit:Getty
Sources told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that England’s players were being run through quarantine and biosecurity plans for the tour early this week, before being given the chance to ask questions and deliver feedback. From there the ECB board, chaired by Ian Watmore, will meet to make a final call.
“Over the weekend we have been talking to England men’s players and management to provide them with the latest information about the proposed arrangements for this winter’s scheduled Ashes tour,” the ECB said in a statement.
“We remain in regular and positive dialogue with Cricket Australia over these arrangements as the picture is constantly evolving. With health and wellbeing at the forefront, our focus is to ensure the tour can go ahead with conditions for players and management to perform at their best.
“We will continue talking to our players this week to share the latest information and seek feedback. Later this week the ECB board will meet to decide whether the conditions in place are sufficient for the tour to go ahead and enable the selection of a squad befitting a series of this significance.”
Once players have made themselves available or unavailable for selection based on their willingness to make the trip, the England coach and sole selector Chris Silverwood has the task of choosing a squad.
He is likely to do so later this week once the England Twenty20 squad for the World Cup has touched down in Oman, where they will isolate for 10 days before relocating to Dubai.
Plans for England’s players were shared with the ECB late last month, generating a cautiously positive response about the blueprint. England’s captain Joe Root has said that he and others would wait until they had full information in front of them before making a call.
England skipper Joe Root. Credit:Getty
Recent events in Australia, with Sheffield Shield matches being cancelled and rescheduled and continuing doubt over when New South Wales and Victoria will even be able to play, cannot have aided discussions between CA and the ECB.
The touring team, support staff and partners making the trip are expected to quarantine in resort-style accommodation on the Gold Coast, allowing freedom to train and also move around the resort grounds, as distinct from strict confinement to a hotel room.
After two weeks of quarantine have been completed, players on both sides – all of whom will be double vaccinated – will have a similar degree of freedoms, allowing for walks, outdoor coffees and dining, but ruling out riskier areas like cinemas, pubs or their beer gardens.
While he was criticised for comments saying that he “didn’t care” which England players turned up or not, the Australian Test captain Tim Paine also made the point that the hosts were just as eager for a good balance between biosecurity and an enjoyable experience of the series, since both teams would operate under the same protocols.
One player has pulled out of the trip. The all-rounder Moeen Ali chose to retire from Test cricket rather than making himself available for the tour, even though he has expressed regret at being unable to atone for an indifferent showing in Australia in 2017-18.
Ben Stokes is considered highly unlikely to be coming to Australia, having taken an indefinite break from the game earlier this year. Jofra Archer, who turned the 2019 series on its head with his fast and hostile contributions, is also out of action with injury.
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