‘A degree of optimism’: Vaccination passports could save Ashes series

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Cricket Australia is banking on high vaccination rates to ensure the Boxing Day and New Year’s Ashes Tests take place in Melbourne and Sydney this summer.

However, the controversial Afghanistan Test will need Federal Government approval before proceeding in Hobart from late November.

Australian captain Tim Paine celebrates retaining the Ashes in Manchester two years ago.Credit:Getty

Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockey made it clear that while mandating vaccination passports was up to the federal government, a high vaccination rate was likely to allow the five Test Ashes to go ahead as scheduled.

“I think we take a degree of optimism from vaccination rates,” Hockley said.

“We’re hopeful that with vaccination rates increasing that we will be able to complete the series as currently scheduled.”

Hockley pointed to the sellout crowds for the England-India five-Test series in England, with the United Kingdom dropping COVID-19 restrictions because of high vaccination rates.

‘At the moment based on vaccination rates we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to have crowds in Melbourne and Sydney.’

Cricket Australia is keen to avoid moving Tests, with the first match at Brisbane’s Gabba scheduled to start on December 8.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that. That’s something we’ll address closer to the time but at the moment based on vaccination rates we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to have crowds in Melbourne and Sydney,” Hockley said.

“We’ve demonstrated already this season that we have to be agile. The women’s series (against India) was due to be played in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and we’ve moved that to Mackay and the Gold Coast where starting a week on Tuesday we will be able to have crowds.

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

“The one thing I’ve learnt through this last 18 months is that things can change really, really quickly.

“We’ve got a range of protocols that fit any given circumstance and we’ll react accordingly. I think it’s too early to tell.

With the background threats of withdrawal from England players if they can’t bring wives and girlfriends on the Ashes tour, Cricket Australia is working closely with governments to facilitate a smooth passage.

“I have a high degree of empathy for all international sports people and international cricketers particularly,” Hockley said.

“England have played more international cricket and spent more time in bubbles than probably any other country. They’ve coming straight from the Twenty20 World Cup into a long Ashes tour.

Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley is confident the Ashes summer, including the traditional Sydney New Years Test, will proceed as scheduled.Credit:Getty

“As we did with India last year, 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.

“We’ll be in the same boat coming back from the Twenty20 World Cup together. We’re in regular dialogue with both the ECB (England Cricket Board) and with governments. We’re getting right into the details of those plans.

“Both us and the ECB want to absolutely 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.”

Hockley made it clear that the final decision of the Test against Afghanistan going ahead would be made by the Australian Government.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said on Monday that he would be seeking the advice of the local Hazara community about the Test proceeding in Hobart.

The Taliban, who recently completed a swift takeover of Afghanistan, has declared it wants the game to happen. But serious concerns remain about the treatment of women and the future of its women’s cricket program.

To have Test status as a full member of the International Cricket Council a country must have both men’s and women’s teams.

Hockey said he had “reached out to the Tasmanian Premier” to request a meeting.

“We’re obviously working closely with the Tasmanian government at an operational level on planning for the Test,” he said.

“Clearly it’s a very complex and challenging situation in relation to Afghanistan, so we’re also talking to the ICC and the Australian Government and seeking their advice in relation to the Test.

“It’s a challenging situation and it’s all relatively new. I know the ICC are seeking to understand the situation.

“As it stands today, Afghanistan are a full member of the ICC and my understanding is that they’re planning to compete in the T20 World Cup.

“We all want to see cricket thrive for both women and men all around the world. But we don’t have all the answers right now and there’ll be a number of discussions over coming weeks with the ICC but also with the Australian government to understand what’s most appropriate in relation to the Test match.”

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