Australia’s COVID-19 protocols could be final nail in England’s Ashes coffin

England’s Test cricketers will be in talks with the ECB and PCA this week about the possibility of pulling out of this winter’s Ashes, the BBC has reported. With the hugely strict, regionally unique COVID-19 restrictions in Australia and the T20 World Cup beginning in October, some of England’s multi-format players could be away from home for four months.

A debate on the relative merits of withdrawing from an Ashes tour is a non-starter. Being an international cricketer is a profession that puts a great deal of strain on a player’s personal life, one that is usually remedied by visits from families on tours abroad. To ask the likes of Jos Buttler, Mark Wood and Sam Curran to be away from their loved ones for so long would be inhumane. The opportunity to win a World Cup should not, and will not, be undermined either, even if we would rather like the ECB to follow through on their claims that Test cricket is the pinnacle.

What this does mean, however, is that England’s underdog status going into Brisbane on the 8th of December will be dramatically underlined. After failing to build on a famous win in Chennai that now seems depressingly long ago, England have suffered both on that tour and this summer against New Zealand. Five more Tests against India at home this summer hardly scream confidence-builders.

England suffered from rotation policies earlier on this year, and the prospect of not having their strongest eleven against an Australia side including Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Pat Cummins is deeply worrying, given their recent over-reliance on the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes.

In slightly less sullen terms, it could herald opportunities for the likes of James Vince and Saqib Mahmood, amongst others, to play a role and demonstrate their quality in the most pressurised of circumstances. Were I a betting man though, I would think about looking to the ever-optimistic – or perhaps just realistic – Glenn McGrath for a pre-series tip-off.