Ashes still in the balance as ECB prepares to make final tour assessment

ECB warns that tour rests on selection of squad "befitting a series of this significance"

James Anderson and Chris Woakes head off after England fought back with the pink ball, Cricket Australia XI v England, The Ashes 2017-18, tour match, 3rd day, Adelaide, November 10, 2017

James Anderson and Chris Woakes during the Adelaide Test in 2017-18  •  Getty Images

The ECB board is set to meet later this week to determine whether this winter's Ashes can take place, after appearing to concede that several of the team's leading players remain unwilling to submit to Australia's stringent Covid-19 protocols.
In a statement issued on Monday morning, the ECB said that it had been in discussions with England men's players and management - some of whom will be departing for the UAE later the same day ahead of this month's T20 World Cup.
And while the statement insisted that the board's dialogue with Cricket Australia remained "regular and positive", it also appeared to express public doubt about whether the conditions that have been put in place will "enable the selection of a squad befitting a series of this significance".
"Over the weekend we have been talking to England men's players and management to provide them with the latest information about the proposed arrangements for this winter's scheduled Ashes tour," the statement read.
"We remain in regular and positive dialogue with Cricket Australia over these arrangements as the picture is constantly evolving. With health and wellbeing at the forefront, our focus is to ensure the tour can go ahead with conditions for players and management to perform at their best.
"We will continue talking to our players this week to share the latest information and seek feedback.
"Later this week the ECB board will meet to decide whether the conditions in place are sufficient for the tour to go ahead and enable the selection of a squad befitting a series of this significance."
Australia's government has outlined plans to ease entry and quarantine restrictions to fully-vaccinated citizens in November, but this provision isn't expected to be extended to overseas travellers until a later date.
Last week, England's captain Joe Root expressed his own doubts about the series, stating that he was "desperate" for the tour to go ahead, but that he could not yet commit to leading the team.
Writing on Instagram prior to the white-ball squad's departure for the UAE, Paul Collingwood, the team's assistant coach, summed up the dilemma being faced by many of the players, particularly those with young families.
"I love my job and I'm so excited for the winter of cricket ahead but saying goodbye to your daughters for potentially 3 months is not easy, no matter how tough you feel you are," he wrote. "We all make sacrifices in life. Looking forward to meeting up with the team tomorrow because I know we will try to help each other like a family."
In response, Cricket Australia issued a statement of its own, reiterating the "regular and positive" discussions of the past six months, and stressing that the "health and wellbeing of both squads ... is a priority."
"We especially thank our government partners for all their support in this regard," the statement continued. "We are also buoyed by rising vaccination rates and an evolving approach to the pandemic in Australia.
"The anticipated conditions for the tour, including quarantine arrangements have now been communicated to the ECB and directly to the England players and staff."