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Ashes

Player welfare key for English cricket chiefs amid Ashes travel virus fears


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The England and Wales Cricket Board insisted Friday player and staff welfare were "paramount" ahead of the upcoming Ashes tour of Australia but stressed it was committed to finding a solution that enables England's best players to feature in the five-Test series. 

In a joint statement issued with England's Professional Cricketers' Association, the ECB reiterated their wish to have the series played to "the highest possible standard", adding they were due to hold meetings with Cricket Australia in the coming weeks.  

ECB officials are keen, on mental health grounds, to avoid having their players return to the kind of strict biosecure bubbles felt necessary to ensure England's 2020 home international season went ahead. 

Australia has tried to cocoon itself from the rest of the world during the coronavirus pandemic, imposing a near total ban on foreign visitors in March 2020 and banning most of its globetrotting citizens from leaving. 

Sixteen months and several lockdowns on, there are currently around six million Australians under stay-at-home orders -- most residing in Covid-hit Sydney -- as authorities battle to get back to "Covid zero."

Scarcely 14 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated, prompting growing anger.

A further complication as far as the Ashes are concerned is that the five venues for the Tests -- Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth -- are all in separate Australian states, each of which has imposed its own border restrictions during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, said Friday that Australia will reopen its borders and end lockdowns when 80 percent of the population are fully vaccinated.

But England players -- particularly multi-format stars such as Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler -- could go up to four months without seeing family due to the Ashes starting three weeks after the Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates  and Oman is due to finish in November.

"This week, several meetings have been held between the England men's players, ECB and Team England Player Partnership to discuss provisional plans for the tour of Australia later in the year," said the ECB/PCA statement.

"All parties are collaborating and will continue to work together to understand protocols around bubble environments, family provision and quarantine rules that will be in place for the tour during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

"With player and management's welfare paramount, the ECB will discuss planning and operational requirements with Cricket Australia in the coming weeks and how they seek to implement their policies in partnership with state and federal governments.

"All stakeholders are 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 series deserves."

'Farcical'

Last week, former England captain Michael Vaughan, an Ashes winner on home soil in 2005, urged Australian authorities to relax their restrictions or else delay the series by a year, saying the prospect of England fielding an under-strength team would be "farcical".

Postponing the Ashes is far from straightforward, however. 

Leaving aside the economic fall-out, one issue would be the knock-on effect on other already scheduled series involving England and Australia and the impact postponement would also have on the second edition of the International Cricket Council's World Test Championship.  

England off-spinner Dom Bess made clear on Tuesday his willingness to tour regardless of the restrictions. 

"Obviously I don't know what will be happening or what Australia and their regulations are," he said. 

"But I think if your name was on the ticket and you were going to an Ashes series as a 24-year-old, you would never ever turn that down."