Is The Ashes series in Australia this winter in doubt over England players’ concerns?

The Ashes are considered the pinnacle for English and Australian cricketers but is this winter’s series in danger of being postponed due to player withdrawals?

Recent reports claim that some England players may be ready to pull out of the tour to Australia if their families are unable to travel with them, while there are also said to be concerns over the strict 14-day hotel room quarantine on arrival.

With the T20 World Cup ending just three weeks before the start of the first Ashes Test, England multi-format players could be away from their families for as long as four months if restrictions are not relaxed.

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A joint statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Professional Cricketers’ Association last week confirmed the desire for the tour to go ahead but that a number of meetings had been held as they sought to resolve any issues.

Ali Martin, cricket correspondent at The Guardian, and former England player and coach David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd discussed the situation and whether the series actually is in doubt…

Postponement a possibility?

Martin: “Earlier in the summer, I never thought the Ashes wouldn’t happen but I do think that has moved onto the table. I still think it is an outside chance but it is on the table because as much as we’re talking about players going over and bringing family with them, it is not just a case of numbers and visas – at the moment, entry into Australia is capped – it’s that 14-day hotel room quarantine which I think for people working in the media or the players themselves, they would be prepared to go through to do their job.

“But to ask families, particularly those with young children as well – I’ve got two young ones and the thought of being in one room with them for two weeks, I don’t want to go there! I think that in itself is the prohibitive element and my understanding is that’s where England are trying to get a relaxation.

“They will go into a bio-secure bubble and a bio-secure environment over there as a squad and will probably have access to training facilities and I believe that they are hoping to get their families over there and they’re not just confined to their rooms. I’m sure they’ll be double vaccinated, and they’ll be testing as well but they will want the space to breathe there and not be confined. Otherwise, families won’t go and actually, from speaking to quite a few of the players, some of them won’t go either.”

Changing attitudes

Martin: “That’s the issue [with the T20 World Cup into The Ashes], it’ll be four months on the road. Andrew Strauss has spoken about old-school attitudes and just getting out there and doing your job but I think the world has changed, it’s certainly changed with the pandemic. But I think attitudes have changed and I’d be surprised if there was kickback on players who didn’t want to go to The Ashes.

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“At the same time, Joe Root, speaking on the eve of this Test match, did want to stress that The Ashes are the pinnacle, the players do want to be there but they also don’t want to be away from their families for that amount of time, also when you factor in Christmas and young children as well.”

‘Too big to fail’

Martin: “I still think it will [go ahead], I almost think it is too big to fail at this point. I just think the concern is the strength of the England team that goes out. Particularly for Joe Root because it’s very rare for an England captain to get two cracks at an away Ashes series and, rightly or wrongly, this is what they’ve been building towards. So if he was to lose some of his trusted lieutenants, that would be a real shame.”

‘Every sympathy’ with the players

Lloyd: “Families were allowed out for a couple of weeks [in the 1975 Ashes] and that wouldn’t be all the family, it would just be your partner. But this is totally different with the pandemic and all the restrictions that are there, I have every sympathy.

“The other thing is that you could mention eight or nine players who wouldn’t go but then there are eight or nine players who would go and they would come up with a team of younger players. You’d think that would maybe be single chaps who would go but I’ve got every sympathy with the players who’ve got young families, who would be away during a worldwide pandemic, which is awful.”

Choice between T20 World Cup and Ashes?

Martin: “I also wonder whether there would be a conversation with Eoin Morgan at some stage about multi-format players who would like to do The Ashes but they’d like that time at home during the T20 World Cup. England’s strength is clearly in white-ball cricket and I think they’d be able to cover any absentees a lot easier in that format.

“But, at the same time, Eoin Morgan is trying to unite the 50-over title with its T20 equivalent for a real legacy moment for the white-ball culture and set-up that he’s produced. Now that Ed Smith has left, it’ll be down to Chris Silverwood to play King Solomon and decide who gets what.”

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