England could field under-strength Ashes squad as ECB resist postponement

Prospect of boycott still on the cards as players await clarity on quarantine and bubble life

George Dobell
George Dobell
The prospect of England fielding a significantly under-strength squad in the Ashes would appear to have grown following talks between the team and officials at the ECB.
ESPNcricinfo understands that some members of the playing squad and some members of the team management were underwhelmed by the ECB's refusal to even countenance a partial or even complete postponement of the tour. As a result, they are considering their options. One of those options is understood to be the entire team - including coaching and support staff - taking a collective decision to boycott the tour.
While the players appear, in general, fairly sanguine about the prospect of a two-week quarantine for themselves, they are reluctant to put their families through it. And with some players away for the best part of four months (the IPL being followed by the T20 World Cup and the Ashes), they are understandably reluctant not to see their families for the entire period.
The nature of the quarantine is also understood to have disappointed the players. Although there has been talk of allowing them the use of a resort hotel on the Gold Coast, it is now understood they are likely to be permitted only two or three hours out of their hotel rooms each day for training. There is also a possibility the squad will be obliged to remain in some sort of 'bubble' throughout the tour to avoid difficulties in moving between states. Families, meanwhile, could still be required to undergo a 'hard' quarantine involving 14 days in a hotel room.
Given the current quarantine requirements in Australia, the team had - in a Q and A with Tom Harrison in recent days - asked the ECB to raise the possibility of a postponement in the series with their counterparts at CA. One proposed option is believed to have been a suggestion that the tour was split into two, with two or three Tests played across the Christmas period in 2021-22, and two or three more played in a similar period next year. Another proposed option was to move the whole series back 12 months in the hope that families and supporters from the UK would be able to attend.
It is understood, however, that the ECB were reluctant to consider such options. While they did reiterate the offer that players - and support staff - could opt out without consequences, they do appear insistent that the tour should proceed this year. This reaction is understood to have disappointed some players who feel their concerns are not being appreciated by the authorities.
Official negotiations between the ECB and the players are conducted by TEPP (The Team England Player Partnership; a division of the PCA; the players' union) but, in recent days, Harrison has spoken to the players in the hope of answering their questions directly. That meeting would appear not to have alleviated many concerns.
As a result, it remains possible that the entire team - including management, coaches and support staff - could make a collective decision not to tour in order to highlight their discomfort with the situation. It remains more likely, however, that several players - especially those who are not all-format players - will ultimately choose to go. Either way, it appears inevitable that England will be forced to field a substantially under-strength squad. That could even include them naming a new captain for the series, with a senior player such as Stuart Broad a possible option.
Both eventualities are likely to have consequences. As things stand, no broadcast partner has been announced to show the Ashes in the UK, though BT Sport are understood to be the likely home of the series. The prospect of a one-sided contest is unlikely to have enticed especially attractive bids.
The ECB have asked for confirmation of the players' decision whether to tour by the end of September. The players, meanwhile, are still awaiting details of what the tour - including quarantine - will look like for them and their families. Until those questions are answered, they are struggling to provide informed decisions. CA is understood to have undertaken to provide more details by September 26. All involved want some clarify soon after that. While the ECB are clearly keen to fulfil the touring agreement, it remains possible they will make demands about quarantine that CA are simply unable to meet. Such a scenario would pose another threat to the tour.
The prospect of any of the Tests taking place in Perth seems to be diminishing by the moment, however. West Australia is, at present, taking an especially cautious approach to the virus and is currently requiring another 14-day quarantine when entering the state. As a result, there seems a strong possibility that both the fourth and fifth Tests could be played in Sydney. England's original plans involved sending an enlarged tour party to Perth to warm up for the series. They were hoping the England side could prepare with matches against England Lions.
ESPNcricinfo understands there has been no discussion about asking West Indies and Pakistan to alter their dates of their Test series against England, currently scheduled for March 2022 and November 2022 respectively.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo