How Test cricket became a prison sentence
The sacredness of Australia's baggy green cap is under siege from COVID-19.
Playing Test match cricket has for decades been the honour that any home grown cricketer would bleed for, but the virus corrupted world is threatening to put a hole in that proud tradition.
Australia's top stars will emerge from their two weeks in quarantine on Thursday night, and the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner and Mitchell Starc have already publicly questioned how many more times they can commit to the repetitive isolation of a hotel room.
The football codes wore the brunt of the onset of the pandemic, but it's the global game of cricket that stands to suffer the withering longer-term affects.
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Australia is scheduled to make trips next year to England for a likely world Test championship showdown against India, the Caribbean for white ball games, and India for the Twenty20 World Cup - all destinations that would demand quarantining for return travellers unless a COVID-vaccine arrives and is readily available beforehand.
But the first unprecedented crossroads will come straight off the back of the home summer in February, when Australia is set to commit to simultaneous tours in South Africa and New Zealand and the playing group will have to be split.
One tour is the pinnacle of Test cricket, and the other a series of white ball matches.
But in 2021 the price of that baggy green in South Africa is more than a month locked down in a COVID-ravaged country, with two weeks hard quarantine upon return.
The white ball tour has its own significance given it's a World Cup year, but the real appeal is because of the saloon passage it allows to the haven of New Zealand, with no isolation required and no restrictions on partners and families.
Australian coach Justin Langer last week summed up the predicament to former England captain Mike Atherton in The Times, and why selectors and fans alike are going to have to alter their existing attitudes to the possibility of star players standing themselves down from tours.
"Without doubt, talking to all our players, you can just hear it in their voice, the monotony of it," Langer said. "It's the lack of choice they are talking about; the same thing over and over again.
"We've got to keep an eye on them because we always talk about having a bigger perspective and doing things other than just playing cricket, but bubble life doesn't allow that.
"We're going to have to be strong in giving players breaks if that's what is required.
" … They have to have some normality to their lives.
"So we are going to have to make some tough calls.
"Broadcasters won't be happy, sponsors aren't going to be happy, fans aren't going to be happy, but we'll have to look after our players.
"The simple view is that they earn so much money, what are they complaining about?
"I get it, but I don't care how much money you've got, it doesn't replace family."
Smith has been in a bubble since late August, and has two months still to go. He says tough conversations that have never taken place before will have to be had.
"I think it's important that we're able to have the conversations with our coaches … just to be able to talk about how we're feeling," Smith said.
"I don't think it's sustainable for a long period of time … Guys over the last couple of years have had the courage to come out and talk about what they're going through so it's certainly important in these times to be able to do that and just take a step by step process as to what's the most important thing for each individual player."
Warner, a father of three said committing to every tour would be hard if quarantine was still required in Australia.
"To answer your question honestly, it's going to be very difficult to be able to do that," said Warner.
"Trying to get used to not having the family with me … and even Starcy's a unique one with his wife (Alyssa Healy) playing as well. We're just not going to get that time to see our family.
"I wouldn't ever put them in that situation where they have to do 14 days quarantine at home. The next 12 months is very difficult when you look at the calendar."
Originally published as How Test cricket became a prison sentence