Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, has made a personal intervention in a bid to ensure this winter's Ashes tour is able to take place, after raising the issue of a travel ban on the families of England's cricketers with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, although any special dispensation seems unlikely.
Johnson, who is currently on a diplomatic visit to Washington DC, met with Morrison over dinner on Tuesday where he sought assurances about this winter's series. The first Test is due to get underway at Brisbane on December 8, but the trip remains in doubt after a number of England players expressed reservations about the strict quarantine measures that are likely to be in place for the duration of the tour.
"I raised it [with Mr Morrison] and he said he was going to do his best for the families," Mr Johnson told reporters in Washington. "He totally got the point that for cricketers it is very tough to ask people to be away from their families over Christmas. He merely undertook to come back and see if he could find a solution."
In response, Morrison said: "I would love to see the Ashes go ahead, as I shared with Boris last night. But there's no special deals there. I don't see a great deal of difference in skilled workers or students, who will be able to come to Australia when you reach the vaccination rates."
International travel is set to resume when Australia reaches 80% double vaccination for over 16s but, nationally, that figure is unlikely to be reached before the Ashes squad is due to arrive.
The ECB has been in extensive negotiations with their counterparts at Cricket Australia in recent weeks, in a bid to find a workable solution to an impasse that could yet derail the tour. At this stage, the prospect remains that England will, at best, send an under-strength squad and, at worst, boycott the series entirely, due to the complex relationship between Australia's state and federal governments, and the challenge of moving freely around the country through the differing quarantine measures that are currently in place at different venues.
It is understood that the prospect of families not being allowed to join has receded but the 14-day quarantine period could still make it unworkable for many to fly into the tour. One development on the horizon that could yet assist is the New South Wales government announcing they will trial a seven-day home quarantine system from the end of September for those who fit certain criteria although it remains a long way from being an option for the Ashes.
With a number of England's players set to travel direct to Australia from the T20 World Cup, which begins in the UAE next month, CA has promised to give a final update on the Ashes quarantine arrangements by Monday. Despite the threat of withdrawals, Stuart Broad is one player who has committed to travel - potentially even as captain - telling The Mail on Sunday that he "would be happy to get on a plane to Australia in November".
That sentiment was shared on Wednesday by Dan Lawrence, the Essex batter who featured in three Tests this summer, and who captained his side to a two-day victory over Northamptonshire in their final fixture of the county season. Afterwards told ESPNcricinfo that he would "go in a heartbeat" if selected for this winter's tour.
"It's such an individual, case-by-case basis," Lawrence said. "For me personally, I've got no reason not to go to Australia, and if I was selected, I'd go in a heartbeat. It's above my pay grade to find out what's going on - we haven't had any information yet, there are still negotiations going on. But just to get on the trip will be my first goal and I'll be doing everything I can in the next six-eight weeks, because it's a massive tick in a player's career to play in an Ashes in Australia."
According to The Times, government support for the Ashes tour has been tempered by frustration at the ECB's withdrawal from their two-match tour of Pakistan, which was due to take place in Rawalpindi on October 13 and 14. The paper reports that the Prime Minister and senior officials within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office believe that the decision, which was made on player welfare grounds rather than issues of security, has damaged relations between the UK and the Pakistan government.
On Tuesday, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Christian Turner, issued a statement via Twitter, distancing himself from the ECB's decision not to tour, which he said had been made independently of the country's government.
"The British High Commission supported the tour, did not advise against in on security grounds, and our travel advice for Pakistan has not changed," Turner said. "I have been a champion of international cricket's return to Pakistan and will redouble my efforts in advance of England's autumn 2022 tour. My thanks to all at the PCB who have worked so hard in support of that."