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The ECB were today set to finally receive information from Cricket Australia and the Australian government about quarantine and living arrangements for England players and their families on this winter’s Ashes tour.
Australia’s strict approach to managing the Covid-19 pandemic – with entry to the country and particular states limited – has thrown some doubt over cricket’s marquee five-Test series, but it is certain to go ahead.
Whether it does so with a full-strength England team is another matter. Players and staff – especially those with young families – have had doubts about the practicality of travelling down under for a 10-week tour over Christmas.
ECB chiefs will pore over the documentation sent by CA, raising any issues, before presenting it to players early next week. There are two big questions that the ECB and England players want answered.
First, what are the quarantine requirements? Players expect that they will have to do two weeks in a hotel-room on arrival in Australia, but hope that they will be allowed out for a couple of hours a day to train.
They also hope that their families would receive some exemptions if they came to visit. Families with school-age children – which includes that of captain Joe Root – would have a limited window to travel in the holidays, most of which could be taken up by quarantine.
The second question is the living conditions in Australia. If strict biosecure bubbles are put in place for the series, weary players are likely to pull out, while they are also wary of the snap lockdowns that have been happening across Australia since the pandemic began.
If those are not answered, it could be that England – whose players have played 18 Tests since the pandemic began, the first 12 of which were in suffocating biobubbles – suffer so many pullouts that they take a second team to Australia, although James Anderson and Stuart Broad have committed to touring.
The T20 World Cup is an added complication. Quarantine requirements mean that the England party is likely to leave for the tournament in the UAE in early October.
As many as half of the 18 players England are taking to that tournament could be involved in the Ashes, for which England are set to have an enlarged squad and a Lions party.
That would mean that all-format players such as Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler (who has spoken publicly about his reservations over travelling to Australia) would be away for almost four months – perhaps with little access to families.
Whether recent cancellations of the Old Trafford Test match against India, the short tour of Pakistan and the withdrawal of a number of players from the resumption of the IPL (which lead to more time with families and in bubbles) mean more players travel to Australia remains to be seen.