The Australia squad linked up from around the country for the first time since March and flew out of Perth on Sunday, bound for England, to follow West Indies, Ireland and Pakistan as countries to resume international tours in the “new normal” of the Covid-19 era.
As with the other series to take place in England over the last couple of months the negotiations to make it happen have gone to the top level of governments on both sides of the world with the final sign-off for Australia coming just a couple of weeks ago.
Preparation for the players has differed significantly between states, through a combination of climate and Covid-19 restrictions, ranging from those in Queensland and Western Australia being able to have centre-wicket practice to almost full lockdown in Victoria.
The New South Wales-based contingent have been training in their own group for several weeks and were told to avoid public places such as cafes and restaurants with Covid-19 numbers bubbling along in the state.
In Victoria, where Melbourne has been under stage-four restrictions for three weeks, captain Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell have been almost fully home-bound – not even allowed to visit supermarkets – except for training under very strict guidelines at the Junction Oval away from state team-mates.
Steven Smith gave an insight into the level of precautions being taken with an Instagram post showing him in mask and gloves as he made his way to the airport where he then did a social-distanced interview with the media who were told to stay three metres away.
The atmosphere of the tour will be far removed from when Smith was last in the UK for the World Cup and Ashes a year ago.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into it, obviously it’s going to be a bit different than what we’re used to being in a bubble and playing with no crowds,” Smith told reporters at Sydney airport. “That presents a challenge in itself, but one we’re looking forward to. I do like batting there, unfortunately there’s going to be no crowd there to egg me on and give me a bit more motivation.”
For some of the players who enter the biosecure bubble it could be a way of life for the rest of the year; 12 of the squad will head to the UAE for the IPL after the England series, while the remainder of the party who return back to Australia will be required to quarantine for two weeks in Perth.
“I’ve been very strong with the guys in the last couple of weeks about making sure that we do literally everything we can with regards to the protocols to keep the global game going. Because at the end of the day, if that fails then we are all out of jobs and the game is not in a healthy state.”
The IPL-based players who also play international cricket are then likely to return straight into another bubble for the start of the home season involving India and maybe Afghanistan, while even those playing domestic cricket – the structure of which is still to be confirmed – are increasingly likely to have to enter hubs to enable the season to take place. In the week leading up to the tour, the tone has been that every effort must continue to be made to keep international cricket going.
“I’ve been very strong with the guys in the last couple of weeks about making sure that we do literally everything we can with regards to the protocols to keep the global game going,” Finch said. “Because at the end of the day, if that fails then we are all out of jobs and the game is not in a healthy state, which we can’t afford to have.”
The England series itself is a brief affair with three T20Is followed by three ODIs, a trip that would normally be low-key by the standards of England-Australia tussles but, as with any sport taking place at the moment, now has huge significance attached. From the ECB’s side it means they will have been able to complete their full men’s international summer; CA will be hoping they can pull off the same feat later in the year.
On the field, Australia will be aiming to continue their strong T20I form, which has seen them win nine of their last 11 matches – although there is now no T20 World Cup to aim for this year – while in ODI cricket they will be looking to atone for last year’s World Cup semi-final defeat and find the missing ingredients to their 50-over form.
Three players could make their international debuts – wicketkeeper batsman Josh Philippe, fast bowler Riley Meredith and left-arm quick Daniel Sams, who have all earned selection largely on the back of their Big Bash returns. Their first taste of the Australia set-up will be something few could have imagined six months ago.
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