Australia’s Ashes preparations stand to be further complicated by any success the team has at the Twenty20 World Cup due to the spectre of COVID-19.
Selectors may have no option but to pick a second-string Test XI, missing superstars Pat Cummins, Steve Smith and David Warner, to start the summer against Afghanistan should Australia reach the final of the global event on November 14.
David Warner, Pat Cummins and Steve Smith could miss the Test against Afghanistan if Australia qualify for the T20 World Cup final.Credit:Getty Images
The Test against Afghanistan starts on November 27 in Hobart, and multiple sources familiar with the situation say there are no plans to alter the schedule.
With dates and venues now locked in for the men’s T20 World Cup, the only major trophy to elude Australia, Cricket Australia will start exploring options with federal and state governments as to whether players could be allowed to play in the Test without completing their 14 days of hotel quarantine.
Under this scenario, the game could be held in a quarantine environment similar to that of the Gabba Test between Australia and India in January when players were allowed to leave the team hotel only to train or play in accordance with Queensland health regulations.
There is hope at Cricket Australia that there will be consideration given to the fact players will have been fully vaccinated and have been living in a biosecure bubble during the T20 World Cup.
Should the green light not be given, Australia would likely have to field a depleted side, with Cummins, Smith, Warner, Mitchell Starc and possibly Josh Hazlewood all unavailable for Hobart’s first Test since 2016.
It could pave the way for several on the fringe to strengthen their Ashes claims, including seamer Michael Neser, who has made several Test tours under Justin Langer’s reign without breaking through for a baggy green.
Others who may also benefit are openers Marcus Harris and Will Pucovski, former vice-captain Travis Head, veteran Usman Khawaja and uncapped paceman Sean Abbott.
The Australians would still be expected to defeat Test minnows Afghanistan, but it would be a less than ideal build-up to the Ashes for a team that has not played together since January and whose senior players have had limited red-ball cricket.
Test specialists such as Tim Paine and Nathan Lyon, however, should be match-hardened by several rounds of the Shield.
England face similar match-practice issues with its multi-format stars Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Mark Wood, but their situation is mitigated by the Tests they play during their summer.
Australia has made the final just once from six attempts, though this team is regarded as one of the strongest the country has fielded. It is currently ranked fifth after climbing to No.1 last May but little separates the leading nations.
After months of uncertainty due to India’s coronavirus crisis, this year’s T20 World Cup was this week officially moved to the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The tournament, from October 17 to November 14, will be played at four venues in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Muscat.
“Whilst we are incredibly disappointed not to be hosting the event in India, the decision gives us the certainty we need to stage the event in a country that is a proven international host of multi-team events in a biosecure environment,” acting International Cricket Council chief Geoff Allardice said.
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