This could be a huge weekend in the present and future careers of England’s test cricketers.
They have been told about the conditions they can expect in Australia this winter as part of the 2021/22 Ashes, which will again include staying in a bubble – with or without their family members.
The players will then be given the choice as to whether they want to declare themselves in or out of the squad for the series, which is set to get underway in Brisbane on December 8.
The trouble for the English Cricket Board in their planning is that a number of senior players, including captain Joe Root, have yet to definitively commit themselves to travelling down under.
“The position I’m at in my career, it could be the last opportunity I get to go,” Root has said.
“So of course it’s something you’re desperate to do, desperate to hopefully make history over there and be part of something very special.
“But it’s hard to make a definite decision until we know what it looks like. Once that information comes through and we have a bit more clarity, hopefully we are in a position to do something special this year.”
No team in world cricket has played more than England since the start of 2020, and they have travelled extensively across the globe – adhering to all local restrictions and often spending considerable amounts of time away from loved ones.
Conditions were said to be so gruelling in the bio-secure ‘bubbles’ in Sri Lanka and India that key figures within the selection team decided on a rotation policy, ensuring that only a select handful of players spent consecutive series’ away from home.
There is the distinct possibility that families will not be able to travel to Australia either, and if they do then they will be forced to stay away from the players aside from carefully curated meetings.
However, it has been suggested that the government will re-open the country’s border in November for Australians to travel overseas, and that may lead to a lifting of other restrictions in time for the Ashes.
The Show Must Go On
Australia’s approach to the situation since March 2020 has been of almost complete no-nonsense and zero tolerance.
Even a handful of new cases is enough to see a city or region shut down, and in Queensland – the home of Brisbane, where the first Ashes test is scheduled to be played – a number of new positives have been reported.
That could yet see the NRL Grand Final, which is one of the biggest dates in the Australian sporting calendar, played behind closed doors if there is any evidence of community transmission.
The other issue for Ashes officials is that the five tests are all scheduled to be played in different states, which have their own unique rules and restrictions in place. That makes planning particularly difficult – especially with the picture changing so frequently.
Big sporting events like the Sheffield Shield and international rugby league have been severely disrupted, and shows that the government is standing firm on their policies no matter how much it will ruffle feathers.
However, Australia captain Tim Paine is adamant the series will go ahead – with or without Joe Root.
“It’ll be worked out above us and then they’ll have a choice whether to get on that plane or not,” he said in typically robust fashion.
“No-one is forcing any England player to come. That’s the beauty of the world we live in – you have a choice. If you don’t want to come, don’t come.
“The Ashes are going ahead. The first Test is on 8 December – whether Joe is here or not.”