England’s players will seek clarity in the coming days over whether their families will be allowed to join them in Australia for this winter’s Ashes series, amid concerns that some might decide not to participate if it means being separated for several months.
While England’s schedule is always busy – over the last two years they have had 23% more scheduled days of international cricket than India and 54% more than Australia – their forthcoming fixture list is so hectic that a player involved in all of their matches in every format would not get more than a few consecutive days at home between next week and next February.
It might take some time for the players to receive the clarity they seek, as arrangements for the Ashes series cannot be confirmed until they are approved by Australia’s border force commissioner. However it seems unlikely that conditions imposed for their visit will differ significantly from those faced by India when they arrived in the country last November, on which occasion a limited number of family members were eventually allowed in – but only after the touring side’s coach, Ravi Shastri, threatened to pull out of the tour unless they were accommodated.
On that occasion India’s tour swiftly followed the conclusion of the Indian Premier League, which had been moved to Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates, and during which players were isolated without their families in biosecure bubbles for up to 80 days. The International Cricket Council eventually named a group of 60 people who were allowed into the country, which included players, coaches, support staff and families.
Last week the former England Test captain Michael Vaughan warned that Australia’s stringent border controls would put sports teams off visiting the country. “If Australia continue to lock the borders and make it very, very difficult there will come a stage where a sports team decides not to come,” he told the ABC. “I’m not saying that will be the England cricket team but … as we speak, I would be amazed if England have a full-strength team for the Ashes.”
It is unlikely that any player will be involved in all the cricket England are scheduled to play over the next six months. Since the start of the pandemic the England and Wales Cricket Board have made it a priority to ensure that every player gets regular time off, and their schedule is such that Joe Root’s declaration last month that “we are coming into a period of time now where rest and rotation is put behind us” seems premature.
The Test squad will assemble at the end of this week ahead of the first match of a five-Test home series against India, which gets under way at Trent Bridge next Wednesday. That series ends on 14 September, and within a few days – nothing is set in stone but 19 September has been mooted – a limited-overs side will leave for Bangladesh, where they will play three ODIs as part of the ICC’s World Cup Super League followed by three T20s.
After that comes the T20 World Cup, recently relocated from India to the UAE and Oman, which runs from 17 October to 14 November. If England, currently ranked No 1 by the ICC, were to reach the final any players included in both squads would then have just over three weeks before the Ashes series starts in Brisbane on 8 December, of which 14 days would have to be spent in Australian quarantine.
The Ashes series ends in Perth on 18 January, 10 days before the first of five T20 matches in the West Indies, the last of which is scheduled for 5 February. It is at this point that England’s players can relax – for 24 days, before they are due back in the West Indies to play a warm-up match ahead of a three-Test series in March.