The England and Wales Cricket Board is working to ensure its national teams can tour this winter but the proposed Test series in Sri Lanka is proving troublesome amid concerns over the country’s quarantine rules.
Talks with South Africa over a six-match, white-ball tour for Eoin Morgan’s men next month are currently at an advanced stage, while there is an agreement in place for Heather Knight’s women’s side to travel to New Zealand in February.
But there is less clarity as regards the men’s tours to Sri Lanka and India from January onwards, with the former seemingly contingent on a change of policy from its government and the latter now one of the epicentres of the global pandemic.
Teams who visited England this summer technically quarantined in the on-site cricket ground hotels in Manchester, Derby and Worcester but, thanks to the ECB’s government-approved biosecure protocols, they could still train during this period.
Sri Lanka have thus far been unable to secure a similar exemption, however, with Bangladesh cancelling a three-match Test series this month after balking at the prospect of players isolating in hotel rooms for 14 days upon arrival.
Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, said: “We are working to ensure the business of international cricket keeps going. [But] the Bangladesh tour to Sri Lanka is an understandable situation for the Bangladeshi team; two weeks of quarantine is not an easy thing to agree to for players and I don’t think we would agree to that either.
“We will not sign off on plans we’re not comfortable with, in terms of our No 1 priority: the health and wellbeing of players and staff on these tours.”
Professor Nick Peirce, the ECB’s chief medical officer, insists on-site hotels at grounds are not a prerequisite – the South Africa trip may well see England stay in one Cape Town hotel and commute to matches at Newlands and Paarl – but fears how a strict quarantine period would affect the mental health of the players.
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The rising number of Covid cases in the UK does not help the case for an exemption and it may be that a neutral venue is sought. The United Arab Emirates, currently hosting the Indian Premier League, is already being talked about for the India tour that follows, even if the BCCI remains hopeful that the situation at home will improve.
The ECB must be seen to be doing its bit after its own season was saved by West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland and Australia travelling to England.
And while uncertainty reigns as regards the 2021 home summer, when India’s men arrive for five Tests, the hope is that the biosecure model can be relaxed due to both the exorbitant costs and the demands it places on those involved.
Peirce said: “There’s no chance of a five-Test India series with everybody locked in for that whole time. We saw this summer there was a ceiling probably of three to four weeks [in the bubble] – you need time out.”
The ECB spent around £1m on Covid-19 testing alone this year – some 10,000 tests were done at a cost of £100 each – amid losses in excess of £100m due to the pandemic. Harrison admitted he was drawing up contingency plans for similar financial pain next year, with all eyes on the winter sports as regards the return of crowds.