The date 12 April would have marked the opening round of the 2020 County Championship campaign across the domestic game; an attractive week for county cricketers ending the sterile pre-season formalities of anti-corruption meetings, concussion tests, physio screenings and media commitments.
In truth, I often find pre-season to be an exciting time, a time where the whole squad is back together from winter commitments ranging from England trips and franchise commitments, to grade cricket seasons down under, to those that have stayed at home and almost mistaken the indoor school and gym to be their second home. I know which option I prefer!
It is therefore a stark difference to the current situation we find ourselves in – as society as well as cricketers. The COVID-19 outbreak coincided almost exactly with county pre-season tours in mid-March – a terrifying and bizarre experience to be involved in. The speed at which the virus moved was alarming and plans seemed to change hour by hour – all trips ended up being cancelled, or at least cut short.
Now though, I think most players have settled into their lockdown routine. The PCA, as they do, have been brilliant in supporting their members as well as the domestic game, with a new collective player agreement that sees players agreeing to be furloughed on request of their county and also taking a reduction in remuneration where appropriate to the specific county.
Clearly, different counties find themselves in different financial circumstances but in general, players have been receptive to what’s been asked of them and respect their duty to uphold the domestic game. My view, for what it’s worth, is that we wouldn’t be getting paid if we weren’t working in the ‘real’ world, so whilst we aren’t playing cricket, we’re lucky to be getting paid in any capacity. This initial agreement covers April and May and of course, players are eager to play some cricket where possible later in the summer.
I think the difficulty for most cricketers is the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings. It is difficult to prepare to play when there is currently no clarity on when play might begin again and what it may look like. What is certain though, is that players will welcome any return to remote training – there’s only so much FIFA, Call of Duty, Netflix and Football Manager one can play! I hate to think of some lads ‘playing time’ online – lockdown or no lockdown! That being said, I haven’t been bored enough yet to watch any of the ‘Quarantine Cup’, currently doing the rounds online, involving a player from each county.
Clearly, it is difficult to predict what cricket might take place this summer, if any. Naturally, international games should take priority to respect television broadcasting deals. The Hundred will no longer launch this summer, and could face difficulties next summer competing with postponed events such as the Tokyo Olympics and the Euros.
It seems that the T20 Blast is the priority and it is hard to dispute that. Concern does go to the 150 odd players in the last year of their county contracts and it is important that the PCA make efforts to protect these players in some capacity. For sure though, the county game could look quite different in the next few years.
A potential positive from the Coronavirus could be an even greater focus from counties to promote and develop their youth and homegrown talents, given the financial impacts from the pandemic. This, combined with the queries over the Kolpak system at the end of the year, could see a wealth of English talent be given an opportunity moving forward.
For now, though, it’s a case of sticking together and doing our bit for society. Our coaches and support staff have been really good with frequent communication.
Our WhatsApp group has gone a little quiet after the initial lockdown influx. The formal one that is… the Players’ WhatsApp group is still going strong!