Player behaviour on England’s tour of Australia has left the game’s most powerful figures furious with the team, who are on the brink of losing the Ashes.
This accident-prone campaign lurched off course again last week, with England Lions batsman Ben Duckett handed a maximum £1,500 fine, a written warning and a three-game ban for pouring beer over team-mate Jimmy Anderson in a Perth bar on Thursday.
Anderson, the vice-captain, is also believed to have been reminded of his responsibilities, although England have so far taken no action against their leading Test wicket taker. Yet it is thought some ECB board members have taken an extremely dim view of the latest incident and are certain to ask hard questions when the tour is reviewed early next year.
Similarly, relations between the players and those wearing suits are as tense as they have been for some time. Players felt irked that a midnight curfew was imposed two weeks ago when details emerged of the Jonny Bairstow/Cameron Bancroft ‘headbutt’ greeting incident. They felt the ECB should have protected them rather than fall for what the players deemed an Australian dirty tricks campaign.
The bosses, on the other hand, are flabbergasted that when the curfew was lifted for one night only, they should find themselves dealing with more alcohol-related high jinks. ECB chairman Colin Graves is in Australia, while director of cricket Andrew Strauss rejoins the tour before the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne, after returning home following England’s defeat in the Second Test at Adelaide last week.
Joe Root, the captain, and coach Trevor Bayliss may address the senior squad again in light of the Duckett incident but with the decisive Test at the WACA starting in three days’ time, Root is keen for the squad to focus on cricket if they are to have any chance of retaining the Ashes.
If Australia win - as they have in their past seven Tests against England at this ground - they will regain the urn and the prospect of another 5-0 whitewash will become ever clearer. At boardroom level, there is concern that some England players appear not to understand that they have done anything wrong, or the perception from some at home that the tour is out of control.
There was disbelief that the players should visit the same bar - The Avenue in Perth’s western suburbs - where Bairstow greeted Australia batsman Bancroft with a ‘headbutt’ on October 29, England’s first night on tour.Bairstow has since described the incident as simply “boys being boys”.
The ECB will launch their new city-based, eight-team Twenty20 competition from 2020, which they desperately hope will attract a new audience to the game.
They feel this will be more difficult if the public believe - rightly or wrongly - that these England players take a ‘lads on tour’ approach to cricket overseas. With sponsorship deals to discuss, both for the England team and domestic competitions, this is hardly the ideal backdrop when the ECB go to the negotiating table. They are seeking a new sponsor for Test cricket after Investec’s arrangement was ended early, as well as for the domestic T20 tournament. New Balance, the team’s kit manufacturer, dropped Ben Stokes after he was arrested following an incident outside a nightclub in Bristol in September.
The majority of the Test squad were given time off after Adelaide, with some - Stuart Broad and Bairstow among them - choosing to the leave the camp to spend time with friends or family.
The Lions, minus Duckett, were taking on Perth Scorchers in a Twenty20 match here today.
Broad returned to the team hotel in east Perth yesterday while Bairstow was due back today. Australia began their preparations for the Third Test today but England do not begin formal practice until tomorrow, though some of the batsmen spent time in the nets over the weekend. One thing is certain: Australia will use this to their advantage as they try to close the deal.
Their words to Bairstow at Brisbane, which were picked up by the stump microphone, brought the Bancroft incident to light, and wicketkeeper Tim Paine said: “I’m sure someone will bring it up at some stage. But what’s happening in their camp off the field has no effect on the way we’re going to go about our cricket.”