A game of golf, heading to the beach and dining outdoors will be on offer for the squads for most of the series
Cricket Australia is continuing to work towards hosting the final men’s Ashes Test as scheduled in Perth in January with negotiations ongoing with the Western Australia government about the requirements to get the tour into the state but it will remain tough to get over the line.
Over the weekend, the ECB board gave conditional approval to the tour going ahead if certain “critical conditions” are met over the coming weeks – related to visas, travel exemptions and details over biosecure plans – and on Sunday the squad was named.
England will arrive into Queensland in two groups during November – the Test-only and Lions players on November 5 followed by those at the T20 World Cup later in the month – where they will undertake 14 days quarantine with additional freedoms around their resort hotel. Families will be able to join the tour.
The first Test takes place at the Gabba on December 8 followed by the second in Adelaide with travel between Queensland and South Australia currently free of significant restrictions. The tour then swings to Melbourne and Sydney with the expectation they will be open to each other by then, but the sticking point remains travel to Perth with WA indicating it is unlikely to lift their hard border to New South Wales until next year.
There is hope that the situation could have eased by mid-January as vaccination rates increase. But the likelihood is that if the Test does get the green light for Optus Stadium that the squads would need to return to tighter restrictions for the final week of the tour which could prove a hard sell to England who are strongly against strict bubbles.
“We would desperately like to play the fifth Test in Perth, it’s absolutely our intention to do so,” Nick Hockley, the Cricket Australia CEO, said. “Those discussions are going on right as we speak. We are encouraged by the experience we had last summer when we were able to play five BBL matches in January.
“There’s been a whole winter of experience of playing elite sport at Perth Stadium in biosecure conditions. We have strong relationships and are working through the detail as to what that might look like. It’s really important we are giving both squads, match officials and broadcasters a great experience and their wellbeing is front of mind.”
Comments from WA premier, Mark McGowan, reinforced the view that there remain plenty of hurdles. “They’ll have to comply with the rules that are put in place,” he said. “I’ll continue to talk to the chief health officer about that but the rules are there for a reason, they keep us safe. NSW is riddled with Covid…we have to have pretty strong rules in place to protect our state and that will continue.”
Hockley said it was “premature” to talk about contingencies should a Perth Test not get across the line – CA has previously insisted the order of the Tests would not change – but the options would range from hosting a second match in either Sydney or Melbourne, taking the series to Canberra or potentially Hobart which will lose out on hosting Afghanistan.
In terms of the conditions the two squads will face once quarantine is complete for those who have to go through it – which will include Australia players from New South Wales and Victoria – they will vary from state-to-state but will allow various recreation and outdoor dining.
“The environment has changed with people becoming vaccinated. We’ve really tried to prioritise the wellbeing of all concerned,” Hockley said. “A lot of it is about common sense, socially distancing and keeping safe, but through the course of the summer we would like the ability for our players to enjoy a round of golf, go to the beach, enjoy a meal outside.”
Although Covid case numbers remain significantly lower in Australia than the UK, the risk of looser restrictions was shown during the English season when the home side had to name an entirely new squad for the ODI series against Pakistan then the final Test against India was called off.
“Last season we played every match without a single case,” Hockley said. “If there was a case, there are clearly detailed protocols but it’s analysing the situation on a case-by-case basis, involves isolating the person who has tested positive then working quickly and forensically to work out whether there has been any close contact. That’s why we have a fantastic medical team. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”
Meanwhile, the Afghanistan Test, which was due to start in Hobart on November 27 and provide a lead-in to the Ashes for the Australia players, has been all-but certain to be called off since CA took their stance on the potential exclusion of women from the sport with confirmation expected this week. However, Hockley said there remained a commitment to try and play the game in the future.
“The work we’ve been doing is to understand the situation on the ground,” he said. “We made our position very, very clear off the back of some earlier comments around cricket potentially not being supported for women and girls. It’s most likely that we will postpone the Test until a time when there is more clarity following consultation with the Australia government.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo