Last weekend saw the return of televised sport in the form of the German Bundesliga – albeit behind closed doors. I think I speak on behalf of the majority of sports fans in saying this was a welcome return! Granted, the games had a peculiar feel about them without spectators, but surely it beats no sport at all?
The Bundesliga domestic and worldwide viewing figures would support this with ‘unprecedented’ (oops, sorry) viewership numbers. Some journalists have since criticised the spectacle of behind-closed-doors sport in recent days, but I would perhaps question whether these opinions were pre-existing. After all, the financial ramifications of no play in elite sport are perhaps likely to dictate the agenda, when safe to do so.
Despite minimal easing of the lockdown, Boris’ changes have scratched the itch of many domestic cricketers enabling a return to golf courses. Whilst it’s not cricket, some level of competition and hand-eye coordination has been welcome! I’ve personally found a significant improvement in my mood by finally seeing close friends and family and the awesome weather has only helped that.
This week sees international players return to remote training. This, of course, is an encouraging step and it will be brilliant if we can host both the West Indies and Pakistan this summer. It could be huge for the international game, especially if it helps facilitate a possible return to cricket back in Pakistan, for example.
From the minimal communication we have received as players, it seems the domestic game will follow the protocols and guidelines that are being developed for the international players in terms of return to practice and competition.
However, it seems increasingly likely that this almost certainly won’t be before the start of August.
Player safety simply has to be top priority, especially around bio-secure venues and testing. My concern would be that although this seems doable for the international squad players and support staff, what does this look like for 18 first-class counties and venues with over 360 players? Sports players are humans too and we shouldn’t be asked to do something that is above the national guidelines. I know at my county there are a number of players with young families and children, as well as ethnic minority players that this virus seems to be hitting the most.
Chatting to my peers recently, it is particularly apparent that there are differing opinions on a return to play and whilst we are all keen to get back out there, some naturally have stronger concerns than others, as we are seeing with the Premier League recently.
I think a crucial question in terms of domestic cricket revolves around the Vitality T20 Blast broadcasting deal with the ECB. With the government recently extending the furlough scheme to October, will there be a situation where some counties simply cannot afford to un-furlough their players with no-one coming to watch?
The broadcasting deal may dictate this in terms of the ECB’s help to counties, but you would hope that any cricket that does get played features all 18 counties this summer. Wouldn’t it be bizarre if international and club cricketers could have a net but domestic cricketers couldn’t!
Ultimately, there seem to be more questions than answers at this stage and I guess this is no surprise given what’s going on. Up to now, I think the ECB have dealt with the situation admirably, but it would be nice to get some clarity within the domestic game soon.
One thing is for sure though, no domestic cricket this summer and potential uncertainty regarding overseas travel this winter means that April 2021 could be a very long way away for both players and supporters.