The Hypocritical Tourists: England’s Ashes Get-Out Clause

“When we come to your town, come on out, support the tour…and let freedom reign”. So said Bruce Springsteen when introducing Chimes of Freedom at a 1988 live performance in Stockholm. He was talking about supporting Amnesty International, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. 

Granted, England’s 2021-2022 Ashes Tour to Australia is not quite the same as a major worldwide charity tour. And yet, the Boss’ famous words strike some similarities with the recent interview sound bites from captains Tim Paine and Joe Root, when asked about prospects for the forthcoming series. In a strange dichotomy, the home skipper spoke about supporting the tour, whilst the touring captain suggested he wanted to let freedom reign.

As our esteemed Prime Minister has told us many times during the pandemic, we the British people, are a freedom-loving nation, and for the most part our thirst for freedom has been slaked during the past few summer months. In this new normal we now live in, it seems out of kilter for Covid to be rearing its ugly head when talking about a few games of cricket.

The virus continues to hamper international cricket. Squad rotation and mental health management of players is still the way forward, with Ben Stokes’ conspicuous absence for most of this summer the latest reminder. But when it comes to the biggest test series going, priorities must be aligned. 

There is no doubt about this in Paine’s mind, reflected by his bullish words when speaking to Australian national radio station SEN. And he is right, the England players “have a choice to make…either get on that plane or don’t.” His parting shot English counterpart Root that, “the Ashes are going ahead. The first Test is on 8 December, whether Joe [Root] is here or not. There will be a squad of England players coming here.”

For us ‘freedom loving’ English supporters, there has rarely been an easier target for ridiculing than the Australian cricket captain. Oh how we guffawed back in January as Paine told Ravi Ashwin how he couldn’t wait to get him to the Gabba, only for his side to spectacularly implode against Indian on that very pitch. With these latest words, Paine may have once again put a bulls-eye on his back, but on this occasion he has hit the proverbial nail on the head.

Whilst the Ashes tests will go ahead, where they will be played and under what conditions is another matter, with a myriad of statewide restrictions continuing to be in place throughout Australia. 

Logistical arrangements for the tour are due to be outlined to England’s players this week. Questions will be answered on quarantine restrictions for the players and their families, but should that really dissuade participation in an Ashes series?

Central contracts, it has almost universally agreed, revolutionised the national team for the better. A previous Invitational XI, with players on their Counties’ books, was transformed into “Club England”, where the ECB became the employer. With it came a heightened degree of professionalism and player management. In Covid times, central contracts now seem to include an unwritten get out clause.

Paine is not alone in the tone of his words. Former England opener Mark Butcher recently despaired that in these uncertain times, the financial stability given to centrally contracted players is now threatening to undermine overseas tours. There is no doubt that Root and many of his team are  “desperate” to play this winter but their ticket to Australia remains untouched. There might not be silence from the England players but Butcher is right that “if you’re earning enough money so you can pull out of an Ashes trip then things have taken a pretty bad pass”.

Many of those questioning this non-committal do not have families, so it is impossible to have complete empathy with the likes of Root and Jos Buttler, both of whom are also concerned of leaving behind wives and young children. The bottom line however is that playing cricket for England is their job – that is the purpose of a central contract.

Let us also not forget how the West Indies and Pakistan were parachuted in to the eye of the Covid storm to save the 2020 English summer. They faced far more stringent conditions, against a backdrop of uncertainty and fear of a virus that was still in its relative infancy. You didn’t hear Jason Holder and co. speak about the separation from their families – they got on the job in hand and pulled on their maroon caps. The ECB’s recently botched abandonment of the T20 ‘thank you’ tour to Pakistan has hardly repaid the favour to last year’s other tourists. 

As Paine says, the Ashes are going ahead. It is a free world and England’s players will not be forced onto a plane in the coming winter months. Many will want to make the best decision for themselves and their families but, unlike Springsteen back in Stockholm in ’88, we are not talking about basic human rights. We are talking about doing the job you are paid to do, and the players must remember this fact above all else.

Mark Cohen


  • This from an Australian side that has only played 4 Tests against India at home, has issues with hosting a state match? Couldn’t disagree more. Better to postpone The Ashes than have it take place in an environment where quarantine rules mean that matches may not take place.

  • I understand mental health incredibly well, suffer from it, I also have a family. However I also have a job to do, to provide, yes my job does not take me away from home for months but I have worked on the frontline in the pandemic and still am doing and I don’t grumble, its what I chose to do.

    This article is good, would those players be as comfortable about talking about staying at home if it meant that their pay was removed if so? I am not suggesting it should be as we are in unusual times but I am sure it is a factor, it does grate when you see players saying this then off they go for weeks without an issue to the IPL. I think some of this stems from insecurity also, I have no issue if Root, Buttler etc choose not to go, they have that right, that is fine but there HAS to be an England Squad going, to cancel the Ashes would be disastrous, not only for this Winter but then when do you play them? Future winters are all booked up so assumingly the plan would be to cancel England’s and Australia’s opponents next Winter, the knock on of that would be change in a permanently damaging way.

    We do not know for sure which players are wavering, based on press rumours, it feels like Root, Buttler, Burns, no doubt some others but why is there suddenly ECB talk of cancelling the tour? There is no doubt we could field an alternative squad which would be competitive, is there concern that it could undermine the first choice guys? upset them? Is that what is really happening here just like with the Pakistan cancellation.

    This is not about who is worse, England or Australia during covid, this is WAY bigger and more important than that, here is a suggested alternative squad based on assumption of no Root, Stokes, Buttler or Burns and with Stone and Archer both injured – in my book still competitive looking.

    Ben Brown (experienced, great record and leadership qualities)
    Bairstow (wk)

    Remainder of Squad

    Simon Cook

    Not saying it would win but it would be able to compete and there are others such as Livingstone who averages around 40 in FC Cricket and bowls both Off Spin and Leg Spin , Sam Curran, Bess etc – we have a lot of depth, no need to cancel!

  • The Ashes will never die as a sporting encounter. Better to delay than have some half arsed affair that frustrates everyone
    “Peter Drake”
    teacher and playwright Hexham

  • Good piece, and Mark is 100% right when he says they are being paid to do their job. I add to that a bloody fortune as well to do something most of us would give our right arm for, figuratively speaking. Diddums, sorry about the “inconveniences” boys, don’t let that spoil your 5 Star Hotel stay. If families can’t go so be it. It’s a bit like your wife saying because your a fireman and work mostly night shifts she isn’t going to put up with it unless you work 9-5. It’s rubbish as well as ridiculous. Of course it goes ahead, just send the best available as Robert as outlined in his post. Unless England want to do a Pakistan on the Aussies. They are stuck up enough to do so.

  • Oh please stop it with the Australian sanctimony, with the memory span of a goldfish. Care to listen to your own damn words, when you decided to cancel the tour to South Africa? Oh right, then it was NOT your job to play damn cricket..

    If England want to tour, let them tour. If not, then let them not.

  • As for the title of the piece. It is very apt. Since the Australia Test team have refused to be tourists ANYWHERE since the outbreak of Covid. And even when they played some limited overs stuff in the big scary-non-Australian world, they sent B teams. Because apparently Tim Paine was too exhausted from not playing international cricket.

    • There does not have to be a difference for my point. If Australia had actually not cancelled tours left right and centre, you know their point might have been credible. But the Aussies are just as bad, if not WORSE than England there.

      At least England PLAYED some cricket (actually a lot), SUFFERED in bubbles etc. Or are Australians going to say it is utterly unbearable being in Australia all the time? Is Tim Paine complaining about being so tired from not playing any international cricket in the last 8 months? That would be an interesting argument to make – in fact I am waiting to hear all about THAT.

  • Another sport where the tail is wagging the dog. Rip up the star system and get players back in county sides rather than spending half their time on the golf course. And if players are pulling out stop their wages and ban them for a year.

  • Why should the Ashes tour be any more important in Covid terms than any other?
    Tim Paine was clearly put up to his comments by the Australian board, who stand to lose a heap of cash if the tour is cancelled restricted. With Australia similar to the USA, where different rules apply in different states, there’s no way to predict conditions weeks away. If the Ashes were due in this country it would be interesting to see if Paine and co would be as apparently gungo ho about it.
    Personally I would go, but I fully understand, especially with the amount of time most of the squad have spent away from their families in bubbles this year their need to ensure they’re not confined to hotel rooms for long periods and their families can visit without similar problems. It seems to me it’s more to do with the players than the ECB, who aren’t being asked to go out for the duration. As the English Cricket Board they’re responsible for the England team, not anyone else. It’s easy for us to sit here and moan at the players but none of us have had to go through their experiences and still be expected to perform as though nothing was wrong. With the Windies, India and Pakistan in terms of Covid it’s probably safer for them to be here than back home. Solitary confinement is seen as a punishment in prisons, yet on cricket tours we expect it.

    • “None of us has had to do through their experiences” ? Oh please come on. Extremely well plaid to do a job. Sorry no sympathy with any of them.

      • You do realize that the Australians have been paid for close to two years to be too afraid to be playing cricket outside of Australia too right?

        • I’m not talking about Australia I am talking about England. Just because the Aussies do one thing doesn’t mean we have to follow like overpaid sheep. Wow the amount of people who hardly see there families because of their job on a pittance of a salary compared to these guys getting paid to play cricket, alright Aussies and the rest of them if you like, is staggering. First thing I’d do is year up central contracts.

      • That’s such a tired argument on every level. Cricketers aren’t paid that well compared with other sportsmen, unless they play IPL, which is a cricketing slave market for the elite. Just because you’re well paid doesn’t mean to have to be treated like cattle. They’ve worked harder to get where they are than most folk can imagine and sacrificed a lot in terms of a private life. No sportsman spends more time on the road than cricketers and you don’t know how you’re going to react to it till it happens to you.
        As has been said, quite rightly, it’s not Covid that’s causing the problems, it’s lockdown. Look how it affects people here and they’re at home.

  • It isn’t “the virus” hampering international cricket, it is lockdowns. That is most definitely not the same thing.

    The crucial point isn’t going to be if the tour goes ahead, it’s going to be when/if the England selection is announced. It it’s tantamount to a development squad then it would be better if the whole thing was called off.

  • Personally I’d be delighted if Buttler didn’t tour. He can focus on the hit and giggle stuff he excels at and we could have Foakes doing what he excels at.

    • Couldn’t agree more. He’s not test match quality but brilliant at the short game. Let him stick to what he’s good at and finally give our best keeper a proper chance.

  • The Aussies refused to come here for the Rugby League World Cup. Let’s return the compliment.

  • I hope we go. I believe we will be competitive.
    However, if a player chooses not to Tour I don’t really blame them. It is not one tour, it is the culminative effect of playing a lot of cricket and living in an unusual situation/”bubble” – easy for us to judge but a long tour without family after the last two years is a big ask.
    Easy for Paine, Lyon, etc. to pontificate they have been living in their own house with their families since the home Indian series.


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