England set to name full-strength squad after Ashes tour gets ECB approval
Joe Root is set to be handed a full strength squad for this winter’s bid to regain the Ashes after the two-month tour of Australia was on Friday granted conditional approval by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The five-match series that begins in Brisbane on 8 December has been the subject of tense negotiations in recent weeks over off-field living conditions and the quarantine arrangements in place for players and their families.
But following a breakthrough in talks with Cricket Australia and its government during the week, the ECB board, headed by its interim chair, Barry O’Brien, finally gave the green light for Chris Silverwood to select what is expected to be an 18- or 19-man squad this weekend.
An ECB statement read: “Over recent weeks we have made excellent progress in moving forward on the England men’s Ashes tour.
“To facilitate further progress and allow a squad to be selected, the ECB Board has met today and given its approval for the tour to go ahead. This decision is subject to several critical conditions being met before we travel. We look forward to the ongoing assistance from Cricket Australia in resolving these matters in the coming days.”
The outstanding issues are understood to relate to entry into Australia – the country’s borders are still closed to foreign nationals and exemptions are required – but the expectation is these will soon be resolved.
Jos Buttler, Root’s vice-captain in the absence of Ben Stokes, was among those wavering due to concerns over whether families could travel. But the 31-year-old, currently in Oman with the Twenty20 side before their World Cup campaign, is believed to have said yes along with the likes of Chris Woakes and Mark Wood, two other multi-format players with young families.
There will still be notable absentees, with Stokes currently on the mend from surgery on his left index finger and still unlikely to feature due to his indefinite break for mental health reasons. The fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are both out for the rest of the year with respective elbow and back injuries, while Moeen Ali recently retired from Test cricket.
Along with the main Test squad led by Root, England will also name a separate Lions party next week that will offer a pool of reserves in the event of injury and also serve as warmup opposition during the buildup period on tour.
England’s Test specialists are due to fly to Australia at the start of November, with those involved in the T20 World Cup joining at the end of their campaign. The final of the tournament is on 14 November, meaning at least three weeks of red-ball preparation time for the likes of Buttler, Woakes, Wood, Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan.
It is believed the majority of family members looking to join the tour will do so from the outset, with England’s players set to quarantine in a resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast. In line with protocols agreed by the Australian government, this setup will allow time outdoors for training rather than individuals being confined to their rooms for 14 days.
Others looking to join before the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne will be allowed to undergo the more relaxed quarantine upon arrival in a designated resort in the Yarra Valley. While his availability remains unlikely, this second quarantine hub could provide an opportunity for Stokes to join the tour midway through it.
Once clear of quarantine, and with Australia’s vaccinations set to hit to the desired 80% mark in the coming weeks, England’s players are expected to be able to lead a relatively normal off-field life even if eating and drinking indoors will be off limits.
There are still hurdles to overcome for Cricket Australia, with the fifth Test in Perth from 14 January possibly set to move to another state due to Western Australia’s stringent 14-day quarantine period for inter-state arrivals.
Australia’s national borders are likely to remain closed to overseas citizens until next year too, preventing travelling supporters from making the trip. England will instead be hoping the ex-pat community comes out in force at the five venues.