ECB chairman Ian Watmore has conceded that England’s participation in the Ashes could remain in doubt until the plane carrying Joe Root’s side leaves for Brisbane on November 6.
In his first public comments since the ECB angered Pakistan by pulling out of two Twenty20 matches scheduled to take place in Rawalpindi next month, Watmore offered an apology for last week’s late withdrawal.
He insisted England would commit to a full tour comprising three Tests and five one-day internationals next winter.
ECB chairman Ian Watmore admitted England’s participation in the Ashes may remain in doubt
Watmore conceded plans are uncertain until the plane carrying Joe Root’s side leaves this year
Watmore’s focus has now switched to ensuring this winter’s Ashes series goes ahead with a full-strength England team – with the ECB in the process of reviewing the tour conditions and quarantine stipulations they received from Cricket Australia last Friday.
While those conditions are understood to be less onerous than the ECB had feared and should permit the players’ families to travel, the situation in Australia is ever-changing.
The threat of snap lockdowns remains. This was illustrated when Tasmania pulled out of a Sheffield Shield match in Queensland half an hour before the start of play due to fears of being stuck on the mainland after only four new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the state.
England’s players are fearful of being stuck in a similar situation, with the ECB understood to be seeking guarantees that the tourists will be exempt from any travel restrictions imposed by the Australian or state governments. Such assurances have not yet been forthcoming.
England will travel to Brisbane in two separate parties – with Test specialists jetting out earlier
While it had been hoped that a final decision on the tour and the composition of England’s squad would be made this week, that prospect has now receded.
To complicate matters further England will travel in two separate parties. Root and Test specialists such as James Anderson and Stuart Broad are due to fly out on November 4.
But multi-format players including Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes may not arrive until 10 days later if Eoin Morgan’s white-ball side reach the latter stages of the T20 World Cup in the UAE.
The first Test is due to begin at the Gabba in Brisbane on December 7, although the schedule could yet change.
‘There is no simple date it must be decided by, apart from when that plane goes to Australia,’ Watmore told Sportsmail.
The first Test between England and Australia is poised to begin at the Gabba on December 7
‘Joe and the players not involved in the World Cup will be leaving in the first week of November so we have until then to change things. We are trying to build up a picture, either confident or less confident, of the conditions.
‘There are issues to sort out with Cricket Australia, there are issues for CA to sort out with their government and for the federal government to sort out with state governments. It is a complicated picture.
‘CA know what we need to make the tour successful and they’re working to deliver it. We need to see the detail, check it out with the players and management and either push back or commit.
‘It’s not a red-line type of discussion, but we’re working hard to provide an environment in which our players and their families want to go and perform to their best.
Watmore would not rule out sending a weakened team to Australia if senior stars are reluctant
‘If Australia can deliver that, great, if not we may have to have more challenging discussions.’
Watmore would not rule out sending a weakened team to Australia if senior players are reluctant to make the trip, but insisted the vast majority want to travel despite their concerns.
‘Every player I have spoken to, if you dangle an Ashes in front of them it is the most important thing for them,’ he said. ‘They want to prove themselves on that stage. We have to concentrate on getting conditions with Australia that enable us to get our best team forward.’
Watmore also moved to draw a line under the controversy surrounding the cancelled trip to Pakistan by offering a full apology for the first time and confirming England’s players had not been consulted before the board made their decision, as reported by Sportsmail last week.
‘I’m very sorry to anyone who feels hurt or let down by our decision, particularly in Pakistan,’ he said. ‘The decision the board made was an extremely difficult one and the board made it with the primary consideration being the welfare and mental health of our players and staff.
It has been confirmed that England’s players were not consulted over the Pakistan withdrawal
‘The board took the decision based on its own judgments and it didn’t go out to consultation.
‘Had we decided to go forward with the tour we’d have had to put the proposals to the players, but it didn’t reach that.
‘We’ve recommitted to a proper tour, a scheduled tour, of Pakistan next year and will get on with planning that. We will have longer to plan that trip.
‘I don’t know if you read President Biden’s mind, but I didn’t know he was going to evacuate Afghanistan or that New Zealand would pull out of their tour while effectively warming up on the pitch.’