After rescuing the England men’s summer programme of home internationals, attention at the ECB has turned to winter touring. With the Covid-19 situation likely to remain fluid, and rules governing travel and quarantine subject to change, England’s itinerary for the next six months remains very much up in the air. Here we break down the various possibilities being entertained by the ECB.
Original plan: England were scheduled to play three ODIs and three T20Is in South Africa from mid-March into April 2021.
Current status: England hope to honour this commitment but now expect to arrive in South Africa in mid-November. The current plans would see them stay in a bubble in Cape Town with half the games to be played in the city and the other half in nearby Paarl.
Likely outcome: Confidence remains high this tour will go ahead despite the political turmoil currently embroiling CSA.
Red-ball training camp
Original plan: Training camps are an increasingly common part of England’s winter plans. But whereas they might usually involve a few players – for example, a group of fast bowlers – this time it is likely to involve the entire Test squad.
Current status: With a long break between Tests, England are keen to arrange a camp in the UAE to both work on their skills and finalise selection plans ahead of possible Sri Lanka and India tours.
Likely outcome: There seems a good chance this will go ahead from late November to mid-December. With doubts over the viability of the Test tour of Sri Lanka, though, it is possible the training camp could be moved to January instead.
Original plan: England went to Sri Lanka in March 2020 with plans to play two Tests. But, as the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became more apparent, the tour was abandoned halfway through a warm-up match in Colombo.
Current status: Plans remain in place for England to return to Sri Lanka in January. The Tests could be staged in Dambulla which is a bit more sparsely populated than some of the other venues and has decent hotel options near the stadium. But the ECB has made clear it will not agree to Sri Lanka’s current quarantine arrangements, which would commit the England squad to spending two weeks confined to their rooms. Instead, it is requesting government dispensation to allow the players to train during this period. Unless that dispensation is granted, it seems unlikely they will travel. Bangladesh’s decision to cancel a tour after failing to win such concessions suggest there is currently little room for compromise from the Sri Lankan government.
Likely outcome: The future of this tour remains uncertain, although there are reasons to believe the authorities in Sri Lanka might be a bit more receptive to the ECB’s request for a softening of the quarantine regulations. For one thing, the ECB may be able to demonstrate an absence of positive Covid cases within its squad and for another the financial value of the tour is likely to be higher.
Original plan: England were scheduled to travel to India for a white-ball tour ahead of the T20 World Cup (now postponed) and return for a five-Test series after.
Current status: The two boards have previously announced that the two tours will be amalgamated into one, incorporating both Tests and limited-overs games, starting in January and continuing into March. As things stand, the BCCI has not accepted that the tour will need to be rescheduled to the UAE – despite recently agreeing a memorandum of understanding with the Emirates Cricket Board.
Likely outcome: Given the importance of these games to both boards, there seems a good chance this tour will go ahead. With little realistic chance of England going to India at present, the UAE remains the likely venue. It is also likely the schedule to be curtailed a little to include four Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is. Whether this results in India’s tour to England in the summer of 2021 being similarly shortened remains to be seen.
Original plan: England are due to play three ODIs in the Netherlands in late May.
Current status: Remains in the schedule at this stage.
Likely outcome: If this tour does go ahead, it may be something of a second-string England side which travels. The series not only clashes with the final stages of next year’s IPL, but comes immediately ahead of the World Test Championship final, which is currently scheduled to take place in June and for which England could still qualify. As a result, their top players could be either resting or working on red-ball skills. Like all the tours mentioned, it seems destined to be played behind closed doors.
Pakistan and West Indies
Original plan: England were not scheduled to visit Pakistan or the Caribbean until 2022.
Current status: There is an acknowledgment within the ECB that England owe Pakistan and West Indies for their decision to tour England in 2020. But while there is a willingness to return the favour in the near future, the practicalities are demanding.
Likely outcome: CWI seems content to recoup the favour in March 2022. While England are currently scheduled to play two Tests and three T20Is on that tour in, it seems likely it will be extended to include a third Test. CWI also hopes that, by then, crowds will be back and the islands chosen to host the games will benefit from an influx of British tourists. Meanwhile, the PCB is still hopeful England may be persuaded to visit before the current schedule of October 2022. With England now likely to be in the UAE from late January, there is a distant possibility they could also make a brief trip to Pakistan, perhaps for as little as four or five days, to play a couple of T20Is. If it happens – and it has to be stressed it is possible rather than probable – it would be their first international tour to the country since late 2005.