In response to the understandable and growing number of queries from Clubs and Overseas Players about the position of the UK cricket season, we set out our current position.
We are monitoring the ongoing situation with regards to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and taking advice from numerous bodies, including Sport England and the ECB, on how best to advise clients.
The issue is things are moving so rapidly that this statement may already be outdated.
Relevant statements to date
The latest statement from the ECB released yesterday (18/03/20), stated: “Following the Government’s latest advice around social distancing, it is with sadness and reluctance that we recommend that all forms of recreational cricket are for now suspended”.
The MCC released a statement a day earlier (17/03/20) stating they’ve “taken the decision to postpone all of the Club’s Out-Matches that are scheduled to take place in April 2020”. However, they go on to state matches will “resume at the beginning of May”.
We also have it on good authority that County Championship cricket is “likely” to progress, albeit on a slightly delayed, and “behind closed doors” basis.
Sport England have updated their latest set of guidelines (16/03/20) which they’ve advised us to follow. They strongly encourage people to “stay active”. It could also be argued that club cricket wouldn’t be deemed a “mass gathering” under the World Health Organisation’s (‘WHO’) guidelines.
So, should league cricket go ahead?
Over the past few days, things have escalated rapidly, and it would appear they’re likely to continue on that trajectory over the next few days/weeks. Medical and Scientific information suggests the “peak” of the outbreak is likely to occur between 10 to 14 weeks’ time (ie. 23 May to 20 June).
Given the Government’s strategy to “delay” and push back the peak of the crises from May/June into July/August, if this is successful, there exists a chance the entire season could be lost. It is, however, too early to speculate as to how strong that chance is, but not too early to acknowledge that the chance exists.
There is, though, a very strong probability that the start of the league season will be deferred. The league rumour mill is floating several potential start dates, but it’s widely considered that we “may” lose the first half of the season.
We are aware that if there is a severely truncated season, there will be implications for everyone concerned. We are also mindful of many Club’s obligations to contracted Overseas Players. Given the situation is so fluid, our plan is to outline the implications to both parties in due course.
Realistically, though, our “soft signal” to both Clubs and Overseas Players at the current time is that we find it difficult to foresee the season starting before June.
A potential league strategy?
Several leagues have already developed strategies for the season ahead. Please find below one that we feel many leagues “may” follow, following the ECB statement.
We have put together a defined strategy signposted by various stages that are designed to avoid knee-jerk reactions and allow us breathing space to consider things rationally as they develop. The strategy outlined is intended to be fluid and based on seeking to secure as much cricket as possible, but doing so on an informed basis in a timely manner with as much expert information to hand as possible and having the health and wellbeing of our Clubs, players and officials as the main priority.
It should be stressed that simply because we have outlined four stages it does not mean each one will be implemented – indeed the exact structure of each stage is not set in stone and can be amended if circumstances allow.
For simplicity the current strategy is broken down into four stages as follows:
Cancellation of non-essential meetings/events in April. We have already invoked this stage with the cancellation of the pre-season meeting.
Postponing April’s fixtures (two weekends) and moving them to mid to late September. This stage involves no loss of cricket as the two sets of fixtures would attach to the end of the season.
In terms of notification, if this stage is to be invoked it would be the intention to make a decision by the end of March, so Clubs have ample notice.
This stage would allow us time to see how things develop and place us in a position to make further informed decisions during April.
Cancellation of the first half of the season fixtures, and just playing the second half. This would effectively mean not playing until the beginning of July. If this became a reality then we would have to make a decision as to whether promotion and relegation was acceptable or not in those circumstances, and Clubs would be consulted on that.
If this stage was actioned, then we would have to ‘downsize’ the number of cup competitions in such a scenario but that should not be difficult to do. There would possibly also be some Clubs who would be unable to field all their teams – that bridge to be crossed in consultation with Clubs if we ever consider moving to this stage.
The advantage of invoking this stage would be that we buy some more time to assess the situation as we move through spring into summer when the epidemic is now being forecast to peak.
Obviously this is the worst-case scenario – a cancellation of the season, although even then we could perhaps organise some competitive cricket in August and/or September if the ‘science’ allows.
I would once again stress these stages are not set in stone, but they give us a reasonable template for action with flexibility built in to amend if circumstances dictate or allow. We understand that advice and guidance from the ECB is due shortly and we are taking part in a meeting with other ECB Premier leagues this week, but in the meantime we believe this plan gives us the time to consider each phase of the epidemic as it progresses, make decisions based on fact and present a structured approach to the current unprecedented situation that is a helpful guide to our Clubs. It would be the intention to try and keep you abreast of material developments if and when they occur, including any advice from the governing bodies.