- England are gearing up to host a three-match Test series against the West Indies from July 8-28
- However, the ECB have also ruled out any domestic cricket until August 1
- Three West Indians have already withdrawn from travelling to the UK as coronavirus fears persist
SOUTHAMPTON AND MANCHESTER – As England’s Test cricketers step up their preparations for a resumption, what are the county professionals thinking?
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Yes for Test
Good news, cricket fans: the gentleman’s game will be back on our TV screens in a matter of weeks as England host the West Indies in three Test matches, beginning in Southampton on July 8. Old Trafford will then host the remaining two matches on July 16 & 24, with Jason Holder‘s men already in Manchester prepping for the truncated tussle.
Captain Holder and head coach Phil Simmons are already without Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul who refused to travel with the 25-member touring party due to coronavirus concerns despite a medical briefing from Nick Peirce, chief medical officer for the ECB.
However, any murmurs of discontent about the standard of the opposition from home fans surely pale into insignificance with the joy many will attain from being able to watch Jimmy Anderson in full flight again, rather than watching re-runs of him during his blonde-tipped days (what a terrible fashion choice that haircut was).
Another caveat to the West Indies series comes closer to home as England skipper Joe Root is expected to miss the second Test for the birth of his second child. That would give sporting star and all-round legend of 2019 (remember how good that year was?) Ben Stokes his first chance to officially lead the side in the longest form of the game.
Speaking in his Daily Mirror column, Stokes vowed to be the Scottie Pippen to Root’s Michael Jordan – in homage to the Netflix basketball documentary ‘The Last Dance’ – while being forthright in his own decision making:
“I’m the Scottie Pippen to Joe’s Michael Jordan. It is his team. But what would be the point of asking me to do the job if not for this kind of situation? I understand where Joe is taking the team and how he wants to lead it. So although I’ll make my own calls on the field and do the job as I see it as the game evolves, everything else will very much be the same as when Joe is there.”
The Old Trafford Tests could even see some fans in place if Lancashire’s chief executive Daniel Gidney gets his way. Despite September being mooted as the more likely date for the return of crowds into sporting arenas, Gidney sees no logistical problems in hosting a few thousand spectators.
“We can manage social distancing,” Gidney told BBC Sport. “I think it depends on if we get to one metre [required distancing], but at the very least I think we could be looking at six or seven thousand based on current guidelines, with quite a bit of room to manoeuvre. I think we can do a ‘slowly, slowly’ approach and get small numbers of people back in on a reduced capacity basis.”
Pakistan are the other nation set to face England in Tests this summer, with three fixtures pencilled in for July 30-August 24. That will precede a trio of T20 games taking place on August 29-September 2. Australia and Ireland are scheduled to play white-ball cricket in England too, with Justin Langer‘s side playing three T20s and three ODIs in early July and the Irish taking the short trip in September for three one-dayers.
County cricket yet to get green light
Despite England’s international cricketers facing a packed summer schedule after a 13-week absence, county cricketers across the country are still impatiently twiddling their thumbs ahead of an announcement from the ECB as to when the domestic campaign will resume. The ECB had already ruled last month that no professional domestic cricket will be played in England and Wales until at least August 1, but as that date looms closer and with all county cricketers aside from Surrey and Lancashire on furlough, county chiefs are desperately looking for answers.
All we know for sure so far is first-class cricket will be the first to return, with the T20 format to be reintroduced a few weeks later. The plans drawn up by the Professional Game Group (PGG) – comprising of several county chief executives – are currently being mulled over by the ECB cricket committee, chaired by Sir Andrew Strauss.
Under the favoured option, the County Championship will be renamed and logistically split into three regions with six teams in each. Promotion and relegation would be scrapped and two teams would compete in a five-day final at Lord’s as a one-off solution to the curtailed season.
The reason T20 may not be seen until weeks later is because cricket’s decision makers still hope fans may be able to attend grounds from September, and would therefore need to be later in the calendar in order to accommodate this wish. A second proposal sees only T20 matches being held, with 50-over games completely off the table for this campaign.
As ever, money is a big factor in any of these discussions, with some counties fearful of taking their squads off the furlough scheme with no guarantee for ticket sales to cover the cost yet in place. There is still a distinct possibility, with some counties objecting to a resumption, that county cricket follows the same route the lower tiers of the English football pyramid took and cricket could be cancelled at domestic level.
However, speaking to ESPNCricinfo, Essex chief executive Derek Bowden was noticeably positive about a resumption.
“There is a cost involved in playing behind closed doors, but the number one objective is to play cricket. Then our supporters and members, whether it’s through TV or streaming, can actually watch live competitive sport, which is great for them and great for the country.
“The vast majority [of counties] support it. There may be one or two who are looking at the maths, and I can understand that, but to me the objective of playing live sport is overriding.
“The general public needs live entertainment. It’s crucial. It can lift people. Providing it’s safe, and providing we’re not endangering anybody, bringing live sport back into the homes of individuals is really good.”
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