England cricket fans' hopes of attending Ashes only in 'perfect world' as dates confirmed

·6-min read
England fans clap after Alastair Cook reached two hundred during the third day of the fourth Ashes cricket test match between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 28, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia - Philip Brown/Getty Images
England fans clap after Alastair Cook reached two hundred during the third day of the fourth Ashes cricket test match between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 28, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia - Philip Brown/Getty Images

England cricket fans' hopes of getting to the Ashes are hanging by a thread after Australian cricket authorities suggested they will only be allowed in a "perfect world".

Ministers overseeing the country's Covid-19 border closure are understood to have played down the possibility of exemptions for supporters in the coming months.

However, confirming the fixture schedule for the Test in December, Cricket Australia stopped short of completely ruling out travelling spectators. Nick Hockley, the governing body’s interim chief executive, said: “In a perfect world, we would welcome England fans back to these shores for a summer of singing and sportsmanship. Of course, we will be guided by the Australian Government on all things related to international travel.”

Most Australians have been effectively banned from leaving since last March. Exemption passes for those wanting to travel there are signed off only under strict conditions, with new arrivals quarantining for 14 days on arrival.

Cricket Australia confirmed it has considered "quarantine periods for all international series into its 2021-22 fixture in line with current guidelines".

"CA continues to work closely with relevant Federal and State Government agencies and will provide updates on international quarantine, domestic biosecurity and crowd measures in due course," a statement added.

Details have been confirmed for both men's and women's Ashes. The first men’s Ashes Test will begin at Brisbane’s Gabba from December 8, with the final Test at Perth’s Optus Stadium on January 14. The multi-format women’s Ashes series begin at Manuka Oval, Canberra, with the women’s Ashes Test match from January 27.

Tour operators are refusing to accept bookings from supporters while hopes fade that they will get the green light from border authorities. Ahead of the fixture announcement, Sara Malin, a director at travel firm International Cricket Tours, wrote in a message to regular England travellers: "Sadly supporter bookings won't be available unless Australia opens borders, but we will be taking bookings for West Indies next month."

 Fans cool off in the pool at the Gabba Pool Deck during day one of the First Test Match of the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 23, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia - Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Fans cool off in the pool at the Gabba Pool Deck during day one of the First Test Match of the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 23, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia - Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Australians are divided on the nation leaders maintaining the border closure even as the country advances its vaccine rollout. Liberal Party MPs Dave Sharma, Tim Wilson and Jason Falinski have called for borders to open faster than the mid-2022 budget target, saying the vaccination rollout should allow an easing of restrictions. However, this week the prime minister Scott Morrison has said Australians understand why the Government is taking a “cautious approach”.

England are among countless teams who face lingering uncertainty over away travel despite Covid regulations easing in the UK. The Lions tour will be played behind closed doors, and Wales fans have been told not to travel to Baku or Rome for the nation's Euro 2021 fixtures.

However, Manchester City fans received a boost as owner Sheikh Mansour has vowed to pay the travel costs of fans attending the Champions League final. City have received an allocation of 6,000 tickets for the May 29 showpiece against Chelsea in Porto. “Thousands of City supporters will benefit from the initiative which is designed to ease the financial pressure on fans who have faced – and are still facing – challenging circumstances due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” a club statement read.

Travel to and from Portugal will take place within a 24-hour period, as a Portuguese government minister had said would need to be the case last week. Supporters will now be offered a place on the club’s official trip to Porto when they purchase their tickets.

2021/22 Men's and Women's Ashes dates

Men’s Ashes schedule:
1st Test: 8-12 December – Gabba, Brisbane
2nd Test: 16-20 December – Adelaide Oval, Adelaide (day/night)
3rd Test: 26-30 December – MCG, Melbourne
4th Test: 5-9 January – SCG, Sydney
5th Test: 14-18 January – Optus Stadium, Perth

Women’s Ashes Schedule – 2022:

Test: 27-30 January – Manuka Oval, Canberra
1st T20I: 4 February – North Sydney Oval, Sydney
2nd T20I: 6 February – North Sydney Oval, Sydney
3rd T20I: 10 February – Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
1st ODI: 13 February - Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
2nd ODI: 16 February – Junction Oval, Melbourne
3rd ODI: 19 February – Junction Oval, Melbourne

Analysis: A tough test just got a little tougher for England

By Nick Hoult

This will be a very different Ashes tour and just that little bit harder for England without their supporters to cheer them on.

Ashes tours are lonely places for England players. It feels like the whole country is against you, especially after a hiding in Brisbane. But in recent years the England support has matched Australia’s, certainly when it comes to being vocal. But apart from a few ex-pats, they will be on their own.

Mitchell Johnson was famously rattled by the Barmy Army song about bowling to the left and the right. “I think back then I let it affect me a lot," Johnson said in 2012, after England won 3-1 in Australia. "It's hard not to when that's all you can hear in the cricket ground – your name being sung, and the songs are very catchy.” Johnson had his revenge. And there is little a few jokey songs can do for England when Australia has a fast bowler in the form of his life.

But the supporters come into their own when England are winning and given the splits in the Australian team after sandpapergate, there is fertile ground for some mickey taking if Joe Root’s team start well. It can just add to the impression that England are on top.

The Barmy Army are the attention grabbers, the ones picked out by television cameras, but there are many more England supporters at Australian grounds who have paid thousands of pounds for organised tours and give them just as much support. It will be devastating for many that they will not enjoy a cricketing trip of a lifetime this winter.

The Barmy Army have done much to ensure the survival of Test cricket, bringing in thousands of pounds to local economies where it is desperately needed in places such as the Caribbean and Sri Lanka. A section can be boorish after too many beers and that will not be missed. Billy Cooper, the Barmy Army trumpeter, was good at sensing when the mood was darkening and the songs becoming too nationalistic. He would start playing another tune to diffuse situations but he has stepped down and Covid has prevented any touring since his departure.

The ECB are in talks with Cricket Australia about how to ensure the families are in Australia, not easy given borders are shut, and the result of those discussions will have a greater bearing on England’s performance.

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