The ECB has announced that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales until July 1 at the earliest due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but is yet to confirm the postponement of the Hundred’s inaugural season.
The ECB board met on Thursday to confirm the holding date for the start of the season would be pushed back further from May 28, meaning England’s Test series against West Indies and England women’s white-ball games against India have both officially been postponed. “Our plan is to reschedule international matches as late as possible in the season to give the best chance of play,” chief executive Tom Harrison said.
While a decision on the Hundred is yet to be reached – an additional board meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday following a request to dedicate a further session to it – there is broad acceptance that a lack of overseas players, question marks over allowing fans into grounds and a collective will to “keep the lights on” make this an unfavourable time to launch an expensive new tournament.
There remains a will to play some form of red-ball cricket this season, despite the loss of the first nine rounds of County Championship fixtures. The ECB confirmed that blocks for red-ball and white-ball cricket will be included in a revised schedule, though it seems unlikely that teams will be promoted or relegated this year: players have previously questioned whether such a move would be fair in a truncated season. Some form of regional competition or a knockout tournament are two possibilities.
Any revised schedule will also see the T20 Blast pushed as late in the season as possible to maximise its chances of being staged and to increase the likelihood that fans will be allowed into grounds. The ECB has made clear throughout the contingency planning process that it will prioritise the most financially important forms of the game – internationals and the Blast – to help ensure the future of the first-class counties and the MCC. Notably, the Hundred no longer features among those forms.
The 50-over women’s competition among eight new semi-professional regional development centres remains scheduled for a late August start, though the recruitment process for those centres has stalled and the ECB conceded two weeks ago that the tournament might have to be postponed. Recreational cricket remains suspended indefinitely.
“Our biggest challenge is how we could seek to implement a bio-secure solution that offers optimum safety and security for all concerned”
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison
“Our role as a national governing body during a crisis of this scale requires us to carefully plan alongside cricket’s stakeholders and supporters to attempt to overcome Covid-19’s impact on this season,” Harrison said. “As much as we remain hopeful that we can deliver some cricket this summer, we are in the midst of a worldwide crisis and our priority – over and above the playing of professional sport – will be to protect the vulnerable, key workers and society as a whole over.
“That’s why, simply put, there will be no cricket unless it’s safe to play. Our schedule will only go ahead if government guidance permits. Our biggest challenge, along with other sports, is how we could seek to implement a bio-secure solution that offers optimum safety and security for all concerned. The guidance we receive from Westminster [the UK government] will help us shape how we deliver this.
“Our plan is to reschedule international matches as late as possible in the season to give the best chance of play. The Vitality Blast will also now occupy the latest possible season slot to offer as much time as possible to play a county short-form competition.
“I want to thank everyone involved in this complex and sensitive work. There have clearly never been times like this and my colleagues at the ECB and across the game have been exemplary in this period. It has been refreshing, but not surprising, to see how cricket has come together.”
CWI has signalled its intentions to be flexible in rescheduling their three-Test series, previously highlighting the possibility of playing it in July. Internal ECB discussions have raised the possibility of playing in “bio-secure” environments at Emirates Old Trafford or the Ageas Bowl, which have on-site hotels, or playing a limited-overs series and a Test series in parallel.
It remains possible that the West Indies series will be switched to the Caribbean and played in December, while the ECB is soon to receive an offer from Abu Dhabi Cricket to use their facilities to extend the summer.