Hopes are rising that England will fulfil their entire international schedule this summer after Australia signalled they are keen to play their one-day series here in September.
England are confident of getting their matches against West Indies, Ireland and Pakistan approved by Government but it had been thought the Australia series of three T20s and three ODIs would be cancelled due to international travel restrictions for Australian citizens.
But those fears have been eased and the Australian board are keen for their players to play again.
“I think there’s some chance we could send a team over,” Kevin Roberts, the chief executive of Cricket Australia told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. “Obviously we won’t jeopardise the safety of the players, but the best test of that is that the West Indian and Pakistan tours of England before we’re due to tour. We hope they go off without a hitch.”
Roberts has this week held talks with Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England & Wales Cricket Board, about arrangements for playing behind closed doors and will be monitoring how the West Indies tour progresses before any final decisions are made. Sources indicate talks have progressed well with Australia and confidence about the series going ahead is higher than it was a week or so ago.
Some England players returned to the nets on Thursday, with the bowlers taking their first steps towards a playing return on July 8.
The batsmen are due to begin netting on June 1 but Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes were among the bowlers who sent down a few tentative deliveries in empty nets on Thursday in their first cricket outside since leaving Sri Lanka on March 13.
If Australia do tour England then the entire summer schedule of six Tests, six ODIs and six T20s will be packed into around 12 weeks and played mainly at two venues - the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford.
There is a possibility of the Australia games taking place at a third venue with Edgbaston or Durham in the running. Both have hotels close by and Warwickshire and Durham are keen to host matches behind closed doors.
England has also been identified as a neutral venue for other countries with Graeme Smith, South Africa’s director of cricket, admitting it is possible they could play West Indies here after their series against England.
“We're trying to find opportunities post West Indies' tour to England to see how we can fit that series in, whether it is a neutral ground or wherever we are permitted to play,” he said.
However there is enough pressure on the ECB to provide biosecure venues for their own cricket that contemplating hosting a neutral series is not on the agenda at the moment.
England will name two squads next week for the white and red ball cricket this summer which will involve taking some county players off furlough even though they may have little chance of playing.
England will need expanded squads so they can play matches between themselves as warm-ups for the international games and with the schedule so tight it is could be hard for multi-format players to appear in both red and white ball cricket. They also need cover for injuries with no county cricket going on at the same time.
With the Twenty20 World Cup in October almost certain to be postponed until 2021 there is now less focus on shorter formats. Instead Test cricket takes precedence with England plotting towards the next Ashes series. It means Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Joe Root will concentrate on Test cricket rather than preparing for white ball matches.
England’s schedule for the summer is not yet finalised but the ODIs against Ireland will be sandwiched between Test series with West Indies and Pakistan at the end of July. One-dayers could be played either in the two days leading up to a Test or 24 hours after a five-day game has finished which would make it hard for players to appear in both. England will also be mindful of burn out or injuries even though the players should be fresh after their long break during lockdown.
It could mean a player like Alex Hales, who has been out in the cold since he failed a second drugs test last year, is given another chance but that would require a softening in attitude from Eoin Morgan, the one-day captain, and he is not known for changing his mind.
Stuart Broad inadvertently highlighted England women's team's absence from yesterday's return to training, in posting an image on Instagram of a sign reading "Stuart Broad ONLY" stuck on the door to the ladies' toilets at Trent Bridge, as he was assigned the facilities to keep within health and safety guidelines.
Meanwhile, ECB women's cricket director Clare Connor said yesterday the women's team could be back to formal training in "a few weeks".
"The men are back to action in that individualised training environment this week," Connor said. "They are obviously likely to play international cricket before England women this summer and that's why they're up and running first. We're aiming for in a few weeks' time, then we're hopeful of being able to deliver those same sort of protocols in terms of England women's return.
Earlier this month, Connor said that, in a worst case scenario, men's fixtures may be prioritised this summer for the sake of fulfilling lucrative broadcast contracts.
The women's June series against India has been postponed, while their planned fixtures against South Africa in September theoretically could still go ahead as scheduled.