England will not travel to Australia to play the Ashes unless a deal has been agreed between Cricket Australia and its players' association.
Although the Ashes are not scheduled to start until November 23, England are due to fly to Australia at the end of October and an ECB spokesman confirmed to ESPNcricinfo they would not travel unless they could be assured of the necessary warm-up games required before the Test series begins.
While the ECB remains confident the Ashes will go ahead and is preparing for them with that in mind, they recognise the significant divide that currently exists between Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) and have noted the decision of players to withdraw from the Australia A tour to South Africa.
The ECB's confidence is currently mirrored by the CA, who commented: "We are 100% confident that the Ashes will go ahead."
CA and the ACA are in talks over a proposed change in the way in which professional players are paid. With the current MoU between the parties having expired, most players in Australia - including all centrally-contracted players such as the captain Steven Smith, his deputy David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood - are technically unemployed and have stated they will not play international cricket until a satisfactory resolution is agreed. The Australian tour of Bangladesh, scheduled to begin in mid-August, looks particularly precarious, with a limited overs tour of India to follow it.
Warner's pronouncement in May that CA "might not have have a team for the Ashes" if it continued to push to break up the fixed revenue percentage model of previous MoUs gave an indication of how strongly the players were willing to press their case. CA's major international broadcast partner Channel Nine is currently in the process of trying to sell advertising for the series and plan for its promotion, and is eager for signs of progress in the pay dispute to aid their efforts.
The real deadline for an ECB decision over the viability of the Ashes might come around mid-October. That is when England Women are scheduled to fly to Australia for a tour that includes an Ashes Test and begins with an ODI in Brisbane on October 22. Unless matters in Australia are resolved by then, it is entirely possible the ECB will take the decision to cancel both tours and recoup what costs they can. The consequences - legal and financial - would be enormous.
October 15 is also significant as the day on which adjustment ledger payments from the previous MoU, worth A$58 million to all male players, past and present, who played international or domestic cricket, are due to be sent out by CA. The board's offer to the players had indicated a desire to rollover half of this amount into the next MoU, a suggestion strongly rejected by the ACA.
Greg Hunt, the federal minister for sport, has indicated that the Australian government would be prepared to step in to mediate the dispute if it dragged on long enough to threaten the Ashes. Hunt said this was because of the series' enormous connection to Australia's history and culture, in addition to its sporting and commercial elements.
"If it got to a last-minute situation, I suspect that we would offer to provide good officers brokering between the parties, but there's six months between now and the Ashes," Hunt told ABC's Insiders in May. "It would be unthinkable that in the end we wouldn't have a full team. I do not see either the players or the administration returning to the late '70s where we had a second-rate team. The players love playing for Australia, Cricket Australia knows this is not just fundamental to sport, it is part of our national identity."
The ECB insist they are making no contingency plans for a men's series with anyone else should the Ashes be cancelled, though it is possible the women's team could look to play elsewhere if required.
"The ECB are continuing to prepare for the Ashes as planned," an ECB spokesman said. "We do not anticipate any change and fully intend to fulfil our Tour obligations."