England announce India series as they target fans' return in 2021

London (AFP) –


The England and Wales Cricket Board said Wednesday they hoped spectators would return to matches next year as they announced a full international programme for 2021 culminating with a five-Test series at home to India.

Unlike this year's coronavirus-hit schedule, where a full set of men's international matches were played behind closed doors at Old Trafford and Southampton, the ECB are now planning to take fixtures all round the country as in a normal year.

The draft itinerary issued Wednesday includes nine different host grounds and anticipates a ticket ballot to allow spectators to attend matches once again.

The centrepiece of next year's programme is a Test series against India in August and September, with matches at Trent Bridge, Lord's, Headingley, the Oval and Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, white-ball series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan are scheduled throughout June and July, with fixtures also due to take place at Durham, Edgbaston, Bristol and Cardiff.

It is possible that more games could be added amid uncertainty over whether the planned 2021 World Test Championship final will go ahead after several qualifying matches this year were cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Any additional fixtures could take place at Southampton's Ageas Bowl, not included in the provisional schedule despite its key role in 2020.

- 'Huge' -

England all-rounder Moeen Ali, speaking via conference call from Cape Town ahead of white-ball series against South Africa, welcomed the planned return of spectators by saying: "I think the most important thing for us is to play in front of crowds.

"It's huge -- you realise how much you miss them, the extra motivation they give you when you're playing, going round the country.

"If the fans could come in next year that would be amazing. I think players all over the world are missing the fans a lot."

An optimistic Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, added: "It's an exciting prospect for England fans and, while Covid means there's still a great deal of uncertainty, we really hope to be able to welcome fans back into the grounds safely next year to bring that unique atmosphere to stadia across the country."

The ECB also announced earlier Wednesday that England would tour Pakistan in October, ending a 16-year absence.

England will arrive in Karachi on October 12, playing two T20s on October 14-15 before both teams depart for India ahead of the T20 World Cup.

The series follows Pakistan' widely praised tour of England earlier this year amid the pandemic.

"As was demonstrated this summer, we have a strong relationship with the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) and the ECB is delighted to be able to play our part in ensuring the safe return of international cricket to this wonderful nation of passionate cricket fans," said Harrison, underlining however that safety concerns would remain "paramount".

Dates and venues have yet to be fixed for the England women's team but the ECB have said that South Africa and New Zealand are both expected to travel for 50 and 20-over series.