The Ashes: ECB give go-ahead for England to tour Australia

England bosses have given the green light for this winter’s Ashes tour.

The England and Wales Cricket Board issued a statement last night that will pave the way for the blue-chip series to start as scheduled in Brisbane on December 8.

England captain Joe Root last week refused to confirm he would tour Australia, while opposing counterpart Tim Paine had suggested the tourists would pitch up for the series with or without their talisman skipper.

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Australia’s rigid Covid-19 restrictions are understood to have caused concerns among England players, but a series of crisis meetings this week appear to have produced progress.

England's Ben Stokes during a nets session at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire)

The ECB has given its assent for the tour to go ahead, albeit while insisting “several critical conditions” must be met by the hosts.

“Over recent weeks we have made excellent progress in moving forward on the England Men’s Ashes Tour,” read an ECB statement.

“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.

Yorkshire and England's Dawid Malan has a central contract for the first time (Picture: PA)

“We look forward to the ongoing assistance from Cricket Australia in resolving these matters in the coming days.”

England’s schedule had already been thrown into disarray by the ECB cancelling the Pakistan tour slated for October that was due to serve as a warm-up for the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

The English game’s governing body then had to contend with another body blow when chairman Ian Watmore stood down on Thursday.

All the major players now seem fully aware that the sport’s credibility will be on the line with the status of the Ashes series.

But Yorkshire's David Willeu misses out (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

And the ECB’s statement on Friday tees up the marquee contest between the sport’s two oldest rivals to go ahead as planned.

The ECB has also issueda new batch of 20 central contracts, with Ben Stokes retained in the midst of his ongoing hiatus while Jack Leach, Ollie Robinson and Dawid Malan all earned first-time deals.

Many of those who will be called up to do battle for the urn appear in the new list but there has been a change in tone, with the distinction between red and white-ball deals scrapped after five years. All players now appear in a single list, with an internal pay scale which continues to offer greater weight to performances in Test cricket.

Stokes has not played for his country since July, when he cut short rehabilitation on a broken index finger to captain the one-day side at short notice following a Covid outbreak. He has since taken time away from the game to focus on his mental health and his injury, which recently required a second operation. He is not appearing in the T20 World Cup this month and is unlikely to be back for the Ashes but there are hopes that he will return to the fold in 2022.

The list of 20 core players is supplemented by four more on incremental terms, while Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton and Olly Stone all keep their pace bowling development contracts.

Sussex seamer Robinson was superb on the field this summer, despite some self-inflicted turmoil off it, taking 28 wickets in five Tests at an average of 19.60. Yorkshire’s Malan, meanwhile, was recalled to the Test side having already established himself as a mainstay of the T20 side.

On the other hand, Leach finds himself promoted to the main list having not worn the Three Lions all summer. He was excellent over the winter tours of Sri Lanka and India but was edged out of the team on home soil and owes his renewed status as first-choice Test spinner to Moeen Ali’s retirement.

One notable loser from the latest round is Dom Sibley, a Test regular since his debut in 2019 but dropped in the summer after a run of poor form. The decision is at odds with a show of confidence in Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope. Three members of the 15-man T20 World Cup squad – Sam Billings, Yorkshire’s David Willey and Tymal Mills – go without contracts.Ashley Giles, managing director of men’s cricket at the ECB, explained the tweak to the contract system, which had begun to look outdated in an era of greater rest and rotation and expanded travelling squads.

“The international game continues to evolve, and we have to be mindful that we have to lead the way in player performance across cricket’s ever-changing landscape,” said the 2005 Ashes winner.

“Our objective remains the same to develop world-class players in all three formats as we strive to become the most respected team in the world.

“I would like to congratulate all the players offered agreements for the coming year, particularly newcomers Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, and Ollie Robinson. Receiving your first central contract is a great moment in any player’s career.

“They will all play a pivotal role in England’s fortunes over the next 12 months.”