Cricket matches around the world are still suspended due to coronavirus outbreak

Cricket’s Immediate Future Remains in Limbo

There’s no question that lockdown has offered extended periods of reflection for sports people and cricket is no different.

As it pauses for thought, there are still more questions than answers.

To such an extent that, as there is no action to focus on, one of the more newsworthy pieces over the past week has been the search for the lost World Cup winners’ medal of England paceman Jofra Archer.

He revealed he had turned his flat upside down trying to locate the prized possession – (quick word of advice: try the guest bedroom Jofra!)

But joking aside, there are genuine concerns the game faces a total wipeout of play this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Can the UK cricket season be rescheduled?

We know it won’t start, at the very earliest, until July.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has already pledged £60 million of support to counties and clubs. The 18 first-class counties will share £40m, with £20m in interest-free loans made available to grassroots clubs.

But how far will that go?

Then what happens to the Twenty20 World Cup due to be held in Australia later this year? What about the ongoing World Test Championship (WTC) now that several Test series have been called off?

What of the new ODI League – the pathway for teams to qualify for the men’s 2023 ODI World Cup – which was scheduled to start in May and has now been put on hold to a date to be fixed?

A postponement of the T20 would be a blow to some of the game’s ageing stars, including 40 year-old Chris Gayle, who was hoping to bow out of the international arena in style by leading the Windies to another global title.

Back to the domestic game then and ECB officials will meet on Wednesday as they continue to look at ways of ensuring cricket remains part of this summer’s sporting schedule.

Chief executive Tom Harrison said last week that it has received ‘multiple offers’ from other countries to host domestic games overseas. Yet that is missing the point.

It’s predicted that if there is a total cancellation of the season, counties would miss out on income from matchdays, conferences and other events, resulting in a combined revenue loss of £85m.

To that end, the Twenty20 Blast, which was due to begin on May 28 and had 11 rounds of matches scheduled up until the beginning of July, will be pushed as late as possible into the season.

It’s not out of the question that international and county matches could be played behind closed doors, with players and officials potentially staying in a “bio-secure” environment.

The prospect of the inaugural WTC final taking place in 2021 will hinge on whether England can salvage a cricket season this year and get their home series against West Indies – already postponed – and Pakistan played.

The International Cricket Council has also announced that, following a conference call with its various national chief executives in response to the Covid-19 situation, decisions on whether to postpone the men’s T20 World Cup in October, the women’s World Cup in February and the WTC final next June have all been deferred.

But while Australia and New Zealand, respective hosts of the first two tournaments, may wait as late as July to make final decisions, the fate of the WTC final could come sooner when the ECB establishes how much of its summer is damaged.

There are no answers, because at present there can be no answers. English cricket, like many of its overseas counterparts and in common with many other sports, has its hands tied by a schedule and a wider culture that for years has been geared in just one direction: towards more of everything.

More formats and more fixtures, stretching ever earlier into spring and ever later into autumn, squeezing the gaps in the calendar until players are delirious with fatigue and the red-ball and white-ball games have been driven irreconcilably apart.

A journalist I read has suggested that this represents the ideal opportunity for cricket to rationalise its crazy calendar. Perhaps it does.

That the only other news of note recently – aside from the missing medal – was the announcement that Pakistan batsman Umar Akmal has been banned from all cricket for three years for failing to report corrupt approaches shows how much we are all missing sport.

Surely cricket deserves due some good news soon.

At least we still have special memories to keep us going.

 

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