There will, weather permitting, be professional cricket for the first time this season this week as England take on the West Indies at the “Bio-Secure” Ageas Bowl in Southampton. And, following today’s announcement by the ECB there will be domestic cricket in August, September and October.
But if you are looking for unanimity, you won’t find it among the first-class counties. The vote to commence the season on August 1st was passed 11-7 with the dissenters, led apparently by Hampshire, not wanting to face overnight stays in hotels.
The irony of this is of course that Hampshire has exactly the sort of facility that is required to host cricket in this new post-COVID environment but are currently unable to use it (they are training at Arundel) due to the England team being in residence.
Assuming the seven dissenting counties relent in the next three and a half weeks the format of the season will see a month of red-ball cricket followed by a month of T20 cricket. Whether spectators will be allowed access to any of this remains an unknown.
The ECB has done well to schedule two meaningful competitions in such a short space of time. The “Championship” will be three groups (presumably regional) of six teams who will play each other once. The two teams with the best record will content a five-day final at Lords at the end of September.
There are going to be inequalities in this format, three home and two away or vice-versa the most obvious. But the decision to host the final at Lords’ indicates to me that the ECB is not expecting the public to attend. If they were, the final would be hosted by the team with the best record.
The decision to play T-20 as the white ball format makes great sense. It will allow teams to travel and not stay away, which should encourage a full compliment of 18 teams to take part. And the Board gets to keep its sacred cow of finals day at the end of September although the Hollies Stand may not be as boisterous as usual!
The casualty of all this is the already downgraded 50-over competition which was to have run alongside the 100. For Somerset fans, the joy of May 25th last year can be extended as “holders” for another 12 months.
The fixtures will be announced shortly, but I suspect there will be some robust discussions behind closed doors first, assuming, of course, the rooms hosting the discussions are either virtual or “bio-secure.”