Questions loom for last two Ashes Tests

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Booking out an entire hotel in Sydney for both teams and greater freedoms in NSW Health's close contact process could be enough to save the SCG's Ashes Test.

Cricket Australia face a nervous wait before day three of the third Test in Melbourne on Tuesday, after four non-playing members of England's touring group tested positive to COVID-19.

England's entire squad were to undergo PCR tests after play on Monday, having returned negative results to rapid tests before play.

Those PCR tests will be pivotal in whether the series is able to continue, and in what manner.

Even if England's entire group return negative tests, decisions must still be made.

Under Victoria's rules, anyone deemed a close non-household contact is free to exit isolation on returning a negative PCR test.

NSW and Tasmania currently do not allow the same freedoms for close contacts, forcing them to isolate for seven days - a potential concern for the fourth and fifth Tests.

However, ahead of the fourth Test starting on January 5, there is now scope for discretion from NSW Health if the close contact is not a household member, after changes made a fortnight ago.

There is also some suggestion NSW could soon adopt the same negative-test approach as Victoria to ease the strain of health staff isolating on a system under pressure.

Cricket Australia is banking on having booked out a hotel in Sydney's Double Bay to safeguard players from both teams as NSW deals with more than 6000 new cases per day.

In Melbourne they occupy a wing of a hotel otherwise shared with the public.

The NSW Government showed their resolve last summer when able to keep the Sydney Test against India at the SCG in the midst of the Northern Beaches outbreak and calls for it to be moved.

All of that could be enough to keep the Ashes roadshow headed to NSW, amid pressure for it to stay in Victoria into the new year.

"We've shown that we've got great confidence in the protocols," Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley said.

"In Sydney we've got an exclusive property for the playing group, we're flying there by charter.

"This is something that we're all having to live with."

If England's outbreak does extend to players, CA would face even bigger issues.

Like-for-like COVID-19 player substitutes are allowed, but if the virus was to wipe out several players it would be hard to see the third Test resuming.

England's red-ball players are not scheduled to play in February so Tests could theoretically be pushed back, but that would require an extended stay and more quarantine.

Abandoning part of the Ashes would represent a significant financial blow to CA, given it is their marquee series in the four-year Test cycle.

However cricket's biggest Australian audience in seven years, with 1.84 million tuning in on Boxing Day, shows a thirst for the series still remains, even if Australia do retain the Ashes by going 3-0 in Melbourne.

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