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Women's Ashes walks Covid tightrope ahead of World Cup

The series will be played under tight protocols to try and protect the squads before heading to New Zealand

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
The proximity of the World Cup to the Ashes brings additional risk  •  Getty Images

The proximity of the World Cup to the Ashes brings additional risk  •  Getty Images

Australia and England players involved in the upcoming Women's Ashes risk missing the ODI World Cup in New Zealand if they contract Covid-19 towards the backend of the multi-format series.
The Ashes schedule was amended on Thursday to finish earlier and condense the matches to give teams more time to complete quarantine and preparation in New Zealand.
However, the squads are due to depart across the Tasman almost straight after completing the Ashes in Melbourne on February 9, which means if a player (or support staff) was to contract Covid or have to isolate as a close contact in the days before that it would likely rule them out of the tournament.
Under current guidelines squads will need to arrive in New Zealand as one group and there won't be the capacity for any players to join later.
"At the moment the information we are receiving is that it's just the one squad," Australia's national selector Shawn Flegler said. "It's going to be tough but things have changed so much over the last few weeks. If we can get players over later then we'll look to do that.
"That's why we are trying to put protocols in place but as we've seen in the last few weeks it can be very difficult. We have to expect something may happen."
It means that the Ashes will be played under stricter protocols than have been seen in the men's series over the last few weeks, which has had to contend with various Covid issues although CA wants to continue to try to strike a balance and allow some freedoms. However, restrictions could be tightened further as the departure to New Zealand gets closer.
"We need to keep in mind England as well," Flegler said. "Their focus is on the Ashes but also defending their World Cup title. They are very keen to make sure all their players are available so if we do have to tighten things towards the back end of the series we will do that.
"Again we are trying to balance that with our players and staff can live with some sort of normality. It's not normal, let's be honest, but [we] want to make it as comfortable as possible. We'll try and do the best we can."
Currently the interstate travel involved in the series is a mixture of charter and commercial flights but the risk level of the latter is currently being assessed.
Australia are due to name their Ashes and World Cup squads next week (the latter expected to be 17 names) and will also announce an Australia A group that will face England A. There remains a plan for an intra-squad Australia warm-up on January 18 in Adelaide - part of just three days preparation for the home side - but while the original idea was for movement between the main squad and the A-team players, they will now be keep separate as much as possible.
"Things have changed pretty rapidly over the last couple of weeks and we have to be really careful with our protocols that if someone does have Covid it doesn't take down the whole touring squad," Flegler said. "We'll try and provide some opportunity between the squads where we can but we need to be careful that if some does get Covid it doesn't take out the whole series."
"The way we are looking at it is we have to be prepared that there will be players who will miss games. Hopefully it doesn't happen but we are planning for it in case. We'll just have to adjust pretty much every day."
Australia's preparations have also been hit by the cancelling of a number of Women's National Cricket League matches due to the impact of Covid, which means some players won't have seen action since the WBBL finished in late November.
"It's been a big challenge," Flegler said. "We had the WNCL games before the Ashes thinking we'd have selection opportunities. That's been thrown out of the window to a degree. What we have learnt in the last 18 months to two years is to be adaptable and flexible. So still confident that we've seen enough of our players over the last couple of years so we can put a couple of squads together."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo