ECB scraps warm-up fixtures against visiting teams

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London

Teams touring England in the 2021 season will rely solely on intra-squad matches as preparation for their international fixtures after it was announced on Thursday that planned warm-up matches against county sides had been scrapped.

England’s congested home campaign starts with two Tests against New Zealand in June, with Sri Lanka and Pakistan then arriving for limited-overs matches before attention switches again to red-ball cricket with a five-match series against India.

New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan all had county fixtures scheduled, while India ‘A’ were meant to play two four-day matches against India in England.

The ‘A’ tour, however, has now been postponed and India will instead travel with an expanded squad.

Their warm-up schedule will now consist of two four-day intra-squad games at venues yet to be confirmed.

In addition to the England series, India are also set to face New Zealand in the inaugural World Test Championship final at Southampton in June.

The new arrangements reflect the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) determined to deliver ‘the safest possible environment’ this season.

That follows last year’s successful return of international cricket in England following its enforced suspension due to Covid-19 when the West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland and Australia played intra-squad, rather than county, matches.

“We are looking forward to staging a memorable summer of men’s and women’s international cricket when fans are set to return to venues,” said ECB chief executive Tom Harrison in a statement.

“Ensuring the safest possible environment for international cricket is our first priority and we are appreciative for the understanding of our fellow boards.

“We look forward to welcoming a men’s India A tour at a later date after this summer and when restrictions have eased.”

Meanwhile, England women’s captain Heather Knight said it was vital to keep Test cricket as part of the female game after it was confirmed her side would play their first long format international against India in almost seven years.

Test cricket remains at the margins of the women’s game, with just eight such fixtures played in the past decade — and six of those in Ashes contests between England and Australia.

England and India have not played a Test against each other since 2014, when India won at Wormsley.

But they will face each other in the format again with a four-day fixture at Bristol’s County Ground starting on June 16.

This will be the first of 15 fixtures across all formats for 50-over world champions England this home season, with India remaining for six white-ball games before New Zealand arrive for three Twenty20 Internationals and five One-day Internationals.—AP