English cricket chiefs insist they remain “as flexible and adaptable as possible” over sorting out the summer programme after approving a seven-week delay to the 2020 season.
There will be no professional cricket played in England and Wales until May 28 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the ECB announced on Friday evening.
The ECB has placed an immediate focus on options for cricket in June, including the three-Test series against West Indies, the Vitality Blast and England Women’s schedule against India, and not ruled out the prospect of starting the season behind closed doors.
The ECB Board has agreed that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales before 28 May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) March 20, 2020
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said: “During this period of deep uncertainty it is the ECB’s first priority to protect the wellbeing of everyone within the cricket family, from players, to fans and colleagues across the game.
“The decision to delay the start of the season has been essential, given the circumstances the nation faces. I am reassured by the collaborative effort from across the game that together, we will make the very best of whatever length of season we are able to safely schedule in the coming months.
“With the information available to us at the moment a delay to the start of the professional cricket season until 28 May was unavoidable.
“This also allows us time to keep pace with a fast-moving situation and continue to plan for how a revised season might look.
“Critically, we can also remain as flexible and adaptable as possible, within the obvious restrictions we face.
“Securing the future of the game will be a primary focus as we plot a revised schedule with an emphasis on the most financially important forms of the game for the counties across international and domestic cricket.”
An ECB statement added: “The ECB has begun modelling a range of options to start the season in June, July or August.
“Close liaison with the Government will continue, with discussions on the potential of starting the season behind closed doors and giving sports fans the opportunity to live broadcast action.
“The potential for reduced versions of competitions, should the season become further truncated, will also be discussed.
“The Board will meet as needed to review the position and make further decisions as the UK situation unfolds.”
England are due to start their summer against the West Indies at the Kia Oval on June 4, the first of a Test series which also sees Edgbaston and Lord’s host games.
The tourists had been scheduled to play a four-day warm-up game against the England Lions at Taunton from May 22-25, but that has now been cancelled.
The ECB’s decision to delay the season was welcomed by both the Professional Cricketers’ Association and former England captain Nasser Hussain.
PCA chief executive Tony Irish, whose organisation were involved in the season-delaying discussions with the ECB, the First Class Counties and the MCC, said: “The decision has at least given clarity to players following a week of uncertainty about whether or not they will be playing over the coming weeks.
“All players are in this together and as their players’ association, we now need to work for the players collectively in dealing with the ECB and the first-class counties to find solutions to the challenges ahead.
“Naturally, players have concerns around when they will be able to start playing again, about what the schedule will look like when cricket resumes and about employment security around their contracts.
🏏 A PCA statement following the ECB’s decision to delay professional cricket until May 28. https://t.co/KbLx5y14Ek
— PCA (@PCA) March 20, 2020
“The PCA will represent them in dealing with these issues with the ECB and the counties and seek the right solutions and ones that are acceptable to the players.”
Hussain, now a pundit and broadcaster, told Sky Sports: “Cricketers, groundsmen, clubs, umpires – anyone involved in the professional game – would have just wanted some kind of clarity and date to work to.
“Cricket is low down on the list of priorities for the nation, but it was good there was a bit of clarity from the ECB. What they will have to do is prioritise the financial decisions in all this – Test match cricket, white-ball cricket.
“Maybe the purist will just have to suck it up this summer with the County Championship. These are the decisions the ECB will have to make with their stakeholders and their partners.”
Nottinghamshire, like other counties, would have played six Specsavers County Championship matches during the affected period.
“I feel particularly sorry for our members and supporters as well as our players and coaches, who have all been eagerly looking forward to the new season for some time,” said Nottinghamshire director of cricket Mick Newell.
“It’s also a real shame that the season won’t be able to start promptly for the many club and recreational cricketers for whom cricket is an important part of their lives, and for those that attend the many sessions we deliver in the community.
“We are in regular contact with the ECB and will spend the next few days working through the ramifications for us as a club, as a business and for the game of cricket in Nottinghamshire.”