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Former England captain Nasser Hussain has returned fire in the Ashes war of words as question marks remain over whether the lucrative cricket series will go ahead in Australia later this year.
England's cricket board will decide within days if the Test team's tour of Australia will go ahead, amid concerns over player welfare and the quarantine conditions the players and their potential families will face once they are in Australia.
'SPIRIT OF CRICKET': Indian player's 'ridiculous' act sparks debate
Australia captain Tim Paine last week declared that the Ashes would start on December 8 as planned, whether England captain Joe Root was here or not.
However, Hussain has accused Australia of a lack of empathy over the situation and highlighted the hardships that England's players have faced this year to ensure other tours around the world have gone ahead.
"England have played 18 Test matches since the start of the pandemic in March 2020," Hussain wrote in his Daily Mail column.
"That's five more than anyone else - and 14 more than Australia, whose four Tests all came at home against India.
"I'm quite proud of the way in which England's Test team have kept the show on the road in difficult circumstances, moving in and out of bubbles and spending time away from their families.
"It's draining. Mental health has suffered. So for people in Australia to start lecturing them, and telling them they should simply suck it up, is a bit rich."
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has held a series of meetings with players about the five-Test tour of Australia slated to start in Brisbane on December 8.
Australia's stringent coronavirus travel restrictions have cast doubt on the marquee series, with English players concerned over quarantine, bubble environments and access for families.
The ECB has detailed to its players proposals from Cricket Australia (CA) for the tour and is waiting to hear how many of their first-choice side is prepared to travel.
It's understood CA's proposal includes England's squad arriving in Queensland and performing a 14-day quarantine period, during which they will be allowed to train.
"Later this week the ECB board will meet to decide whether the conditions in place are sufficient for the tour to go ahead and enable the selection of a squad befitting a series of this significance," the ECB said in a statement on Monday night, Australian time.
Several England players are believed to have expressed reservations about the quarantine period, which is mandated by the Australian government.
Fears the Ashes series could be cancelled
England's stance has led to genuine concerns that the series - estimated to be worth AUD$200 million to Australian cricket - could be called off this week.
However, there remains hope that various restrictions will ease across the Australian states as vaccination targets are reached, with conditions for the tourists likely to improve the closer we get to the start of the series.
ECB publicly leaving door open for Board to still pull out of Ashes here. Putting pressure on Aus govt/CA? My own take is that conditions should only improve the closer departure date comes, and indeed after arrival, as diff states reach 80% vax rates. https://t.co/bCZit1GRVm
— Alison Mitchell (@AlisonMitchell) October 4, 2021
"Over the weekend we have been talking to England men's players and management to provide them with the latest information about the proposed arrangements," the ECB statement said.
"We remain in regular and positive dialogue with Cricket Australia over these arrangements as the picture is constantly evolving.
"With health and wellbeing at the forefront, our focus is to ensure the tour can go ahead with conditions for players and management to perform at their best.
"We will continue talking to our players this week to share the latest information and seek feedback."
Hussain appeared to hit out specifically at Aussie captain Paine, insisting that the mental health of the England team was at the forefront of the ECB's concerns.
"Unless you've spent time in a bubble ... you don't get to lecture other people on how they should behave," Hussain wrote.
"It's a delicate balancing act for (England captain Joe) Root and Ashley Giles, the director of cricket.
"They need to be considerate about the players' mental health as they prepare to enter yet another bubble on one of the toughest tours of all.
"But they also know their only chance of winning in Australia is if everyone is on board."
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