Ashes to ‘hopefully’ have full crowds despite rise in Covid cases

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Joe Root and Tim Paine
England and Australia drew a thrilling series 2-2 in 2019, a result which saw Australia retain the urn

The upcoming Ashes series between England and Australia will “hopefully” be played in front of full crowds despite a rise in Covid-19 cases, Cricket Australia has said.

Citing rising vaccination rates, chief executive Nick Hockley said he was optimistic the series would be played as scheduled and with fans present.

Hockley added they hoped to allow England players’ families to travel.

The series is set to start in Brisbane on 8 December.

Should the series be played as planned, Australia will be defending the Ashes after they retained the famous urn by drawing the most recent series 2-2 in 2019.

“At the moment, based on vaccination rates, we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to have crowds,” Hockley told Melbourne radio station SEN.

The optimism comes despite parts of Australia currently being under lockdown, including Melbourne and Sydney, the venues for the third and fourth Tests in the five-match series.

“The Ashes is so big, every Test has its own unique character. In the first instance we’ll be doing everything we can to play the schedule as planned and very hopeful and optimistic that we will have crowds,” Hockley added.

“We have a range of protocols that fit any given circumstance and we’ll react accordingly.”

England, who have played more international cricket than any other side since the pandemic, play in the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October and November before travelling to Australia for the Ashes, meaning players involved in both could be away from home for up to four months.

With Australia imposing some of the strictest Covid-19 protocols in the world, a number of players have suggested that they may pull out of the tour if they were unable to bring their families with them.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said last month that he was “confident” this winter’s Ashes tour would go ahead but that “people come first”.

Hockley, who spoke with Harrison on Tuesday, said he had a “high degree of empathy” for the England players, many of whom have spent lengthy periods during the last 18 months in bio-secure bubbles.

“We’re working sensitively and constructively with governments to try and put in the best possible plans for players and support staff for both the England squad and our own squad,” he said.

“We’ll continue to work through the appropriate channels to try and get support for families to join the tour.

“Both us and the ECB want to field our best possible teams with optimal conditions for them to compete at their absolute best, in what is ultimately the biggest stage in world cricket.”