The return of county cricket could come a step closer this week when the ECB’s cricket committee review proposals for the game’s restart.
As revealed by ESPNcricinfo, plans were drawn up by the Professional Game Group (PGG) at the end of May that envisaged a return of some first-class from August 1, with T20 following a few weeks later. The PGG comprises several county chief executives including Surrey’s Richard Gould and Sussex’s Rob Andrew.
Now those plans, having been discussed and amended in consultation with the first-class counties and the MCC, will be discussed by the ECB cricket committee on Friday. If that committee, which is chaired by former England captain Andrew Strauss, view them positively, they will be sent to the ECB board for approval in the following week. At all stages, the ECB will require government approval to progress.
The core of the plans has hardly changed. Under the favoured option, the first-class competition – it will not be called the ‘County Championship’ – would be split into three regional groups with six teams in each. They would, therefore, play five matches each, with two teams progressing to a five-day final to be staged at Lord’s at the end of September. The competition would have no bearing on promotion and relegation and is seen very much as a one-off solution to a unique challenge.
“I don’t think anyone believes it can be called the County Championship,” Derek Bowden, the Essex chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo. “It would absolutely be worth winning, but it won’t be the County Championship and there certainly won’t be promotion and relegation.”
The start of the T20 Blast competition would be scheduled some weeks later in the hope that some spectators may be allowed to attend from September onwards. The final of that competition is scheduled to be played, as has become customary, at Edgbaston.
The second option outlined would only see the T20 competition staged this year. There is not, at present, any room for 50-over cricket within the proposals. But it has been suggested that, if plans for first-class cricket should falter – and it is accepted that booking hotels could prove problematic – the Royal London Cup could be revived in its place.
It is understood that a vast majority of counties have expressed at least cautious support for the proposals, though one or two – notably Northamptonshire – have more reservations over the costs of taking squads off furlough without the guarantee of ticket sales to mitigate the expense.
While an August 1 start date may seem distant, it would require prompt action from the game. Not only would most squads need to be taken off furlough – only the players at Surrey and Lancashire have not been furloughed – but training would need to start several weeks ahead of any games.
“The objective is to have players back on July 1,” Bowden said. “The objective is to start the season on or around August 1, and bring players back a month before that to give them a month’s training. That’s yet to be confirmed, both at a medical and operational level, but that’s the ambition.
“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.”
Additional reporting: Matt Roller