The England and Wales Cricket Board is set to ratify a further delay to the start of the season and discuss the Hundred’s seemingly inevitable postponement when the sport’s senior officials convene on Thursday.
An ECB board meeting is scheduled to take place via conference call in which it is hoped a revised schedule for a truncated season – or at least an outline of one or two possibilities – might emerge despite the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
No definitive fixture list can be inked in while the ECB awaits the government’s green light and the prospect of no cricket being played at all still lingers. But having already written off matches up to 28 May, the board is now expected to push this date back further – possibly by another month – and confirm that the June Test series against West Indies is also being delayed.
While all of the scenarios modelled give priority to the staging of international cricket and the T20 Blast – and Test cricket will need some first-class matches to underpin it – there is a widespread acceptance that the Hundred’s launch cannot take place when there are no guarantees of spectators or overseas stars.
As well as hearing how the visits of West Indies, Pakistan, Australia and Ireland can be weaved into a season that could be as short as two months, before sharing some of this thinking publicly on Friday, the board is also expected to be given an update from the ECB operations team.
Under the leadership of Steve Elworthy, who organised the World Cup last summer, it has been exploring the possibility of the sport’s resumption behind closed doors in what have been labelled “bio-secure” conditions.
Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, in Manchester, are two grounds with hotels on site that could, in theory, fit the bill in regards to creating such a “bubble”. But there remain huge hurdles to overcome – not least the headache of flying in touring sides – and myriad scenarios to be thought through.
Chris Woakes, one of England’s senior players, believes his teammates are open to a spell of quarantined cricket away from their families but also mindful that while the public’s yearning for live sport is strong, it still sits down the list of national priorities.
Woakes said: “After what the world has been through, if it was at a venue where we stayed on site, players would be happy to do so. If they said it was going to be for three months, I think players might not be too keen. But a three- to four-week window, I think guys would be open.
“In a dream world, everyone would be tested and know whether you’d had [Covid-19] or you hadn’t. But in the real world, these tests aren’t easy to come by and there are people we are dependent on [health workers] who need them.
“As sports people, we can’t demand those sorts of things because there are people who need them a lot more than we do. I think the best way is to rely on the experts’ advice – they are not going to allow sport to go ahead unless it is safe to do so.”
Woakes admitted the return to a dressing-room environment after lockdown will be strange, even if the England squad had already become less tactile after a mystery virus swept through the squad in South Africa last Christmas and then had further distancing measures in place during the aborted tour of Sri Lanka.
That bug even prompted some players to question whether they had early contact with Covid-19, even if Woakes says his own symptoms were of a gastro bug.
“You almost can’t see the world being the same ever again. So I think cricket and being a team will change a little bit. The normal interaction of the dressing room, people being very close, communal showers – all those sorts of things – are going to be things that are going to have to be discussed before we all get back to the norm.”
Tom Harrison has a busy day ahead on Thursday. As well as the board meeting, the ECB chief executive will also join an ICC conference with his counterparts from overseas to outline the challenges presented by Covid-19 in their various territories.
A fact-finding exercise predominantly, there are not expected to be hard decisions taken on the two ICC competitions most threatened by the pandemic: the 16-team T20 World Cup in Australia in October and the World Test Championship.
Contingency planning for the former is clearly a high priority – one chief executive told the Guardian that its cancellation could be a “lights off” moment for a smaller board that relies on ICC money – while the latter’s final at Lord’s in 2021 may need pushing back to allow teams to get their series played.