England assure Australia it's safe to tour

Ian McCullough
Old Trafford is one of the two grounds that make up the ECB's biosecure bubble

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) insists Australia's players will be in the UK's safest possible place if next month's white-ball tour goes ahead.

Australia were due to arrive in July for three ODIs and three T20s, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought sport around the world to a halt.

The ECB and Cricket Australia are keen for a rescheduled tour to take place in early September but the federal government must first give the green light before Justin Langer's team can board an ECB-funded chartered flight to London.

The UK has been particularly hard hit by the virus with over 46,000 people losing their lives and Boris Johnson's government announced on Friday new lockdown restrictions in the north of the country.

Despite this, England successfully hosted the West Indies for three Tests last month with Pakistan due to play a three-match series next week and Ireland also in the country for a trio of one-dayers.

All matches take place without fans at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton and Manchester's Old Trafford with both grounds boasting on-site hotels to house players, umpires and host broadcasters in a bio-secure bubble.

ECB director of special projects Steve Elworthy admits it's been a huge logistical effort to get cricket played and said no stone's been left unturned to protect everyone's safety.

"The biggest challenge was there was no blueprint for this," former South African quick Elworthy told AAP.

"We were interpreting government guidelines, medical protocols and trying to distil all that information.

"What we planned was to create a very secure space that players and stakeholders could come to and feel safe and comfortable."

Stringent measures have been put in place with players forbidden from leaving the bubble under any circumstances and bowlers banned from using saliva to shine the ball.

Jofra Archer found this to his cost when he was fined heavily and dropped after returning home to briefly visit his girlfriend before the second Test against the Windies.

But Elworthy said implementing such strict rules are the only way to maintain the confidence of touring teams.

"We were planning this at the height of the pandemic so it was belts and braces for everything," he said.

"That way, if we can unlock and ease measures if at all possible we will.

"That is far more preferable than adding extra demands as we go which would be uncomfortable for the players."

If Australia do tour, players will see little more than the inside of their hotels and the ground for more than three weeks.

The team will have their own floor and a purpose-built area has been set up in the hotel with pool tables, video games, a basketball area and a Formula One simulator to help alleviate boredom.

Southampton also has a golf course on site.

Before flying out of Australia, players and staff would need to pass two COVID-19 tests and another immediately after going into the bubble.

To ease fears of infection there will be no local net bowlers used and no overseas media have been accredited.

Elworthy said the new lockdown measures imposed in the Greater Manchester area won't stop matches going ahead at Old Trafford, but any decision made by Australia will be respected.

"These localised outbreaks are not going to affect the matches because the grounds we are using are probably the safest square metres in that particular area," he said.

"We'd love to see Australia here, but there is no pressure from us."

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