England’s Ashes tour of Australia is looking likely to go ahead following positive talks between all parties. Encouraging news emerged from the Australian media and the English camp after a meeting of the players’ representatives, the England and Wales Cricket Board, Cricket Australia, and the Australian government on Tuesday.
The 11-week-long trip amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic is yet to be confirmed after weeks of protracted negotiations over the quarantine bubble conditions. Other issues included allowing the players’ families to travel, their quarantine periods, and off-field restrictions. Several English players had voiced their concerns over bubble-fatigue players in recent weeks expressing uncertainty over their availability.
A briefing with the players on Sunday led the ECB to suggest that the tour would not go ahead unless conditions in Australia “enabled the selection of a squad befitting a series of this significance”. While the ECB board is set to meet on Friday, the early reports suggest that the negotiating sides are ironing out the final logistical issues.
Exclusive quarantine facilities
It is looking likely that players’ families will be allowed to join them on the tour. Reports in the Australian media suggest that exclusive quarantine facilities may be provided at a resort in Victoria’s Yarra Valley in December, for the players returning from the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in UAE and Oman. The facility will have the T20 contingent ready for the Boxing Day and New Year Tests. Meanwhile, Queensland’s Gold Coast will host the primary touring party for the necessary quarantine.
All this while, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison has maintained that there would be “no special deals” for the touring party. However, media reports suggest that instead of being confined to their rooms, families would be allowed the use of a swimming pool and gym as well as outdoor space.
Following the meeting, England’s Test captain Joe Root, who had been sceptical about the tour, is reported to be ready to commit to travelling to Australia. Meanwhile, the match schedule remains one of the unresolved issues, particularly the fifth and final game of the series. The final match is slated for Perth, merely five days after the conclusion of the fourth Test in Sydney.
Australia has hinted at easing some of its COVID-19 restrictions once it hits the target of fully vaccinating 80% of the population. However, some regions in the country have their own protocols in place. For instance, Western Australia has strict controls in place even on internal arrivals where visitors from Sydney and elsewhere in New South Wales currently observing a mandatory quarantine lasting 14 days. It means that Western Australia could lose its Test. Its loss will most likely be Canberra or Hobart gains as both are considered to be the most likely to host the game.
“Flexible and practical”
Earlier on Tuesday, Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt said that the government had been “flexible and practical” in an effort to ensure the series could be played.
Talking to Sky Australia, Hunt said, “Ultimately, it’s always in the hands of the touring party, but we’ve been working to be flexible and practical. On the one hand, make sure that we have safety arrangements for Australia. On the other hand, be practical and flexible to give that touring party every chance of coming here and to have the Ashes played.”
Finch understands England’s reluctance
Elsewhere, Australia’s one-day Captain Aaron Finch also indicated the Ashes series looked set to go ahead.
Finch said, “I can really sympathise with them and I am glad everyone is coming to a resolution. The quarantine conditions sound really positive.”
Finch said that he fully understood why England’s players might be reluctant to commit without certain assurances. He said, “It’s a difficult situation for them. They’ve been dragged from pillar to post with their schedule over the last couple of months, so I can understand where they’re coming from. Having families around… especially in a pandemic – guys are on the road for a lot longer than what tours used to go (for) when you add on quarantine at the start and potentially at the end – so I sympathise fully with them. It is difficult (to) think it is up to the individual. Personally, I would do it but we have been in a different situation to England.”
Finch said, “They have played so much cricket in the last 18 months to two years. I can understand their want and need to have partners and families and as much comfort as they can. It is a really big issue.”