The prospect of a boycott remains on the cards while players await clarity on quarantine and bubble life
The prospect of England putting up a significant force in the ashes seems to have grown after talks between the team and officials at the ECB.
ESPNcricinfo understands that some members of the squad and some members of the team management were overwhelmed by the ECB’s refusal to even see a partial or even complete postponement of the trip. As a result, they are considering their options. One of these options is understood to be the entire team – including coaching and support staff – making a collective decision to boycott the trip.
Although players generally appear reasonably vocal about the prospect of a two-week quarantine for themselves, they are reluctant to put their families through it. And with some players away in the best part of four months (IPL followed by the T20 World Cup and the ashes), they are understandably reluctant to not see their families throughout the period.
The nature of quarantine is also understood to have disappointed the players. Although there has been talk of allowing them to use a resort on the Gold Coast, it is now implied that they will probably only be allowed to have two or three hours out of their hotel rooms each day for training. There is also a possibility that the squad will be required to remain in a sort of ‘bubble’ throughout the trip to avoid difficulties in moving between states. Families, meanwhile, may still be required to undergo a ‘tough’ quarantine involving 14 days in a hotel room.
Given the current quarantine requirements in Australia, the team – in a Q and A with Tom Harrison in recent days – had asked the ECB to raise the possibility of a postponement of the series with their colleagues in CA. One suggested option is thought to have been a suggestion that the tour be split in two, with two or three tests played throughout the Christmas period in 2021-22, and two or three more played in a similar period next year. Another proposed option was to move the entire series 12 months back in the hope that families and followers from the UK could participate.
However, it is understood that the ECB was reluctant to consider such options. Although they reiterated the offer that players – and support staff – could opt out without consequences, they insist that the trip should continue this year. This reaction is understood to have disappointed some players who feel that their concerns are not appreciated by the authorities.
As a result, it is still possible that the entire team – including management, coaches and support staff – could make a collective decision not to tour to highlight their discomfort at the situation. However, it is increasingly likely that more players – especially those who are not all-format players – will eventually choose to leave. Either way, it seems inevitable that England will be forced to field a significantly understaffed squad. It may even include naming a new captain for the series, with a senior player like Stuart Broad a possible option.
Both cases are likely to have consequences. As things stand, no broadcast partner has been announced to show the ashes in the UK, though BT Sport is believed to be the likely home of the series. The prospect of one-sided competition is unlikely to have attracted particularly attractive bids.
The ECB has asked for confirmation of the players’ decision to tour at the end of September. Meanwhile, players are still waiting for details on what the trip – including quarantine – will look like for them and their families. Until these questions are answered, they struggle to make informed decisions. CA is believed to have undertaken to provide more details by September 26th. Everyone involved wants some clarification shortly after. Although the ECB is clearly committed to fulfilling the tour agreement, it is still possible that they will demand quarantine, which the CA simply cannot fulfill. Such a scenario would pose another threat to the trip.
However, the prospect of any of the tests taking place in Perth seems to be diminishing at the moment. Western Australia is currently taking a particularly cautious approach to the virus and is currently demanding another 14-day quarantine once they enter the state. As a result, there seems to be a strong possibility that both the fourth and fifth tests could be played in Sydney. England’s original plans involved sending an enlarged tour party to Perth to warm up for the series. They hoped England could prepare with matches against England Lions.
ESPNcricinfo understands that there has been no discussion about asking the Caribbean and Pakistan to change their dates for their test series against England, which are currently scheduled for March 2022 and November 2022 respectively.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo