England Cricket Board planning for return of fans next summer as it announces India Test series

The England and Wales Cricket Board has paved the way for a return to normality next summer, planning for the return of fans at international fixtures and taking the sport across the country once again.

A full calendar of men’s fixtures and one women’s series were salvaged this year despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, but the necessities of the bio-secure bubble meant every game was held behind closed doors.

Furthermore, just three venues staged matches, with Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl used for men’s internationals and all five T20s against West Indies Women played at Derby.

The ECB was always reluctant to resume with those restrictions, though, and has now issued a draft itinerary for 2021 which includes nine different host grounds and – crucially – a ticket ballot that anticipates live crowds being permitted.

The main event of the summer is a five Test series against India in August and September, with Trent Bridge, Lord’s, Headingley, the Oval and Old Trafford hosting, with white-ball series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan scheduled throughout June and July. Matches will also be held at Durham, Edgbaston, Bristol and Cardiff.

Uncertainty around the staging of the World Test Championship Final – which has seen qualifying heavily derailed by cancellations across the cricketing world – means further games could yet be added, including additional fixtures against Sri Lanka before the first listed international on June 29.

Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB, said: “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.”

Dates and venues have yet to be fixed for Heather Knight’s side, but the ECB says South Africa and New Zealand are both expected to travel for 50 and 20-over series, while the visually impaired team will return to the field against Ashes rivals Australia.

The remainder of the 2021 campaign is also taking shape, with England having confirmed a brief trip to Pakistan in October, ending a 16-year absence due to longstanding security concerns.

A limited-overs tour in early 2021 had been proposed, but scheduling issues forced the ECB to agree a later date.

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

Harrison said: “It’s a real pleasure to announce that the England men’s IT20 squad will be playing in Pakistan in October 2021.

“This will be the first time since 2005 that an England team has toured Pakistan and as such it represents a significant moment for both nations.

“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.

“As always, the safety and welfare of our players and staff will be paramount.

“We are working closely with the PCB to ensure all the necessary plans are in place, especially concerning the anticipated levels of security around the team, the proposed travel protocols and of course the situation regarding the fast-moving and ever-changing Covid-19 pandemic.”