LONDON: England will only travel to Australia for the Ashes series across December and January if their leading players are in the squad.
That was the message from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Monday, with the governing body saying it will announce this week if the tour will go ahead amid concerns about restrictions in place in Australia due to the pandemic.
An ECB statement said there has been regular and positive dialogue with Cricket Australia about arrangements for Ashes series, one of the biggest occasions in cricket.
However England’s players are concerned about the conditions they will have to live in after arriving in Australia, such as the quarantine arrangements and whether family members can travel.
The ECB said the priority was to ensure the tour can take place 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, the ECB said in a statement.
Tellingly, the governing body added that the squad selected needed to be befitting a series of this significance.
With the Twenty20 World Cup taking place in the United Arab Emirates and Oman from Oct 17 to Nov 14 and the five-Test Ashes series beginning on Dec 8 until mid-January, plus quarantine either side and before the Ashes, some players could be away from home for more than three months.
Ben Stokes, England’s star all-rounder, is currently missing because he is taking a break from cricket to protect his mental health.
The ECB statement suggests this is not the case and that England will not countenance taking a weakened squad to Australia.
England’s international schedule has undergone repeated changes during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The team returned home early from tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa in 2020 while the fifth Test against India in the countries’ recent series in England was abandoned on the morning of the match after the Indians decided not to play due to fears over a Covid-19 outbreak in their touring group.
England also cancelled white-ball visits to Bangladesh and Pakistan that were scheduled to take place this month ahead of the T20 World Cup.
Meanwhile, former captain Nasser Hussain has criticised Australia’s lack of empathy for England’s players.
“England have played 18 Test matches since the start of the pandemic in March 2020,” Hussain wrote in his Daily Mail column. “That’s five more than anyone else and 14 more than Australia, whose four Tests all came at home against India last winter.
“I’m quite proud of the way in which England’s Test team have kept the show on the road in difficult circumstances, moving in and out of bubbles and spending time away from their families.
“It’s draining. Mental health has suffered. So for people in Australia to start lecturing them, and telling them they should simply suck it up, is a bit rich.”
Paine said last week that the Ashes would go ahead regardless of some England players’ reluctance to travel.
“Unless you’ve spent time in a bubble and some of these guys have done it repeatedly you don’t get to lecture other people on how they should behave,” wrote Hussain. “It’s a delicate balancing act for [Joe} Root and Ashley Giles, the director of cricket.
“They need to be considerate about the players’ mental health as they prepare to enter yet another bubble on one of the toughest tours of all. But they also know their only chance of winning in Australia is if everyone is on board.
“That’s why I don’t like these easy judgments from the other side of the world. If the last 18 months have taught us anything, surely it’s the importance of empathy.”
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021