Fears grew over this winter’s Ashes on Friday when England admitted their players could refuse to tour Australia if they cannot take their families with them.
The prospect of a postponement of the biggest Test series of them all increased when ECB released a joint statement with the Professional Cricketers Association that cranked up the pressure on Australia.
It followed talks between the England players and management this week and was the first recognition of Sportsmail’s exclusive story last month that highlighted anxiety within the camp at the prospect of trying to win back the Ashes without loved ones in tow.
The prospect of England’s Ashes tour of Australia this winter being postponed has increased with the squad unable, as it stands, to have family travel with them because of Covid rules
Australia celebrate winning the last Ashes series to be held Down Under back in 2017-2018
‘We are all committed to putting player and staff welfare as the main priority and finding the right solutions that enable the England team to compete with the best players and at the highest possible standard that the Ashes deserves,’ read the statement.
That was a clear warning that the Ashes will be in jeopardy unless England are given concessions to the Draconian Covid regulations in Australia that, if enforced in November, would mean the players spending up to four months without their families.
England team director Ashley Giles has already said he will not pressure any player to spend further prolonged periods in the bio-secure conditions that have proved such a strain during the pandemic, particularly if their families cannot be with them.
Earlier this season Giles discouraged further use of the word ‘bubble’ because of its negative connotations and now talks of the less rigid ‘controlled team environments’ that England are determined to employ for however long restrictions remain in place.
The Aussies then retained the Ashes in England in 2019 after the series was drawn 2-2
England managing director Ashley Giles says no player will be forced to travel to Australia
And Giles and coach Chris Silverwood are not prepared to take a weakened team to Australia even if just one or two players wish to pull out.
Clearly, either a solution is found to what has now become an acute problem or an Ashes series that will also take place without England supporters will be off.
Now the ECB will seek urgent talks with Cricket Australia to ‘understand protocols around bubble environments, family provision and quarantine rules’ that will be in place for a tour that is due to start in November after the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE.
England opener Rory Burns became the first player to speak out about the issue when he revealed to Sportsmail the mood of apprehension within the team.
‘It’s a tough one,’ said Burns, who pulled out of last winter’s tour of Sri Lanka to be at the birth of his first child, a daughter Cora.
England batsman Rory Burns, who has a young daughter, revealed a mood of apprehension
‘There hasn’t been much information to base a decision on yet. So it’s hard to say whether I would or wouldn’t go. All I know is that it’s asking a lot of people to leave their families for four months because of the volume of cricket we face.
‘But the chance of being involved in an Ashes Down Under doesn’t come along too often and you want to be a part of it.
‘So it’s a Catch-22 and we need more information for us to make a better decision. At the minute we are basing everything on hearsay.’
The Surrey captain has previously spoken about the pressures the players felt in the strict bio-secure environments in place to enable Test cricket to carry on last summer.
‘I think you’re going to see across more and more sports just how important mental health is in this current environment,’ Burns told Sportsmail ahead of meeting up with England in Nottingham today ahead of Wednesday’s first Test against India.
England captain Joe Root won’t wish to have a weakened side for the Ashes series
‘Spending four months away from my wife and child wouldn’t be top of my wish-list but we don’t know if that’s the situation yet so it’s a hard one to elaborate further on.
‘I think I’d have to look at all the information I’d got and then make the call. At the minute to speculate on ‘would you or wouldn’t you’ is really tough because your heart may say one thing and your head another.’
Former England captain Michael Vaughan this week became the first high-profile figure to call for an Ashes postponement at a time when military have been called in by the Australian government to help enforce the current lockdown in Sydney.
England’s supporters won’t be allowed to tour Australia and watch the Ashes this winter
Putting the battle with the old enemy off for a year when cricket’s over-crowded calendar is packed to bursting point would not be easy but there is a way it could be done.
England are due to make their first full Test tour of Pakistan since 2005 in the winter of 2022-23 and that could be brought forward with the Ashes then taking its place.
England are already due to play two ‘goodwill’ Twenty20 matches in Karachi in October and Pakistan would welcome any move to bring a full tour forward. There would also be no issue with families joining the players.
Unless Cricket Australia can work with its government to find a compromise it could be the only solution to an issue the ECB cranked up a notch yesterday.