So that’s it folks. Cricket has been cancelled. England have come home from Sri Lanka, pre-season tours have been called off, they’re cutting the Pakistan Super Slog short, and the money-spinning IPL is in doubt too. Australia even played New Zealand in an empty stadium on Friday. It all feels completely surreal.
One really wonders what the future holds at this point. Recent reports suggest that the coronavirus epidemic in the UK will peak in late May or early June (that’s 10-12 weeks away) but I have no idea what’s going to happen in other countries.
What’s more, things aren’t suddenly going to ‘get back to normal’ in July. I wouldn’t be surprised to see travel restrictions still in place, plus there’s the tricky subject of player visas to arrange. It’s quite possible there will be no international cricket at all in England this summer. What on earth will we all talk about?!
There’s nothing much one can say at this point other than ‘oh shit’. I’m no epidemiologist – in fact, I thought an epidemiologist was someone who specialised in the epididymus until recently – but hopefully things won’t get as bad as the media make out. Maybe there’s an element of sensationalism in their coverage because, at the end of the day, it’s their business to attract viewers?
On the other hand, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if (a) the government expects a large proportion of the population to get sick, and (b) there are only 5,000 ventilators in the whole UK, then (c) we’re absolutely up the creek without a paddle.
In fact, the only sensible thing to do in these circumstances could be to stay at home for a year watching re-runs of the 2005 Ashes on DVD. How bloody typical that I renewed my Sky Sports subscription literally three weeks ago. ‘The home of live sport’? Not for the next few months it won’t be.
So what does all this means for the 2020 cricket season?
The first county championship fixtures are supposed to begin on 12th April. Aint. Gonna. Happen.
England’s first series of the summer (against the Windies at home) begins on June 4th. Aint Gonna Happen.
But what about The Hundred, which begins immediately after Australia’s white ball tour between 3-16th of July? Is this is danger too?
If all goes well and either (a) an early summer heatwave kills off the virus, or (b) the coronavirus spreads through the population anyway but the effects are no worse than the headache one gets after drinking too much Corona, then it’s just about possible that the Australia tour and Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit go ahead as planned.
The ECB will be hoping that the epidemic subsides, and any quarantines / bans on large gatherings are lifted, just as the tournament gets underway. Therefore, in Tom Harrison’s dreams, a population that’s been hibernating for months gradually emerges into the sunlight hungry for live sport and eager to grasp anything and everything that’s taking place.
Alternatively, the Hundred gets underway, flops completely (which it might well have done anyway), and Harrison / Graves simply blame the virus for the nation’s lack of interest. They might even pretend that they’ve done extensive research into human psychology to prove this is the case … which they’ll obviously refuse to publish because it won’t exist.
My gut feeling at this point, however, tells me that The Hundred will be postponed / cancelled too. Most experts think this disease isn’t going to miraculously disappear overnight – it’s pretty hot in Australia and they seem to have the virus down there too – so somehow I think it’s unlikely that the good old English summer is going to save our skins.
The big question is what will happen if they do actually manage to get some cricket played later in the year – perhaps in August and September. I’ve even heard it mooted that the season could be expanded into October – although it would be pretty chilly and games would have to start around 10am (if not before) to make best use of available light.
It’s difficult to see how they’d structure the season if this were to happen. There simply wouldn’t be time for every county side to play each other. So how could a legitimate champion be crowned?
What’s more, there’s the question of what kind of cricket the ECB would hastily decided to play. Call me an old cynic but I highly doubt they’ll want to play 4-day matches at this point. They’ll want to play the games that attract the biggest crowds for understandable financial reasons. Perhaps there will be room for The Hundred, and / or the T20 Blast after all? Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing the latter – although I wouldn’t be surprised if the ECB prioritise their crazy new project above all else.
At this point, however, I’d like to throw in a wildcard. What if they played all championship games as scheduled (throughout the summer) but behind closed doors? Although I’ve seen some people argue (I assume facetiously) that nobody watches the championship anyway so there’s no danger to public health (!) there is a serious point to be made here.
Whilst quite a few people still do watch live championship cricket (it’s not uncommon to see over a thousand people attend) it’s certainly the tournament that produces the least revenue relative to the duration of matches; therefore if some cricket were to be played behind closed doors then the championship is clearly the best candidate.
What’s more, this might be an opportunity to some extent. If first class cricket is the only professional sport actually taking place in the UK between April and June then it’s possible more people would take an interest.
Although there’s a chance that other sports including Premier League football might take place behind closed doors too, I doubt this is viable because the clubs have so many foreign players. County cricket, on the other hand, would be relatively unaffected by international travel bans. Teams would just be missing the limited number of overseas stars.
Please feel free to debate all aspects of how the coronavirus might affect the upcoming cricket season below. I fully accept that today’s article is full of (mostly) uninformed speculation. I know more about my epididymis than epidemics. However, in these uncertain times speculation is pretty much all we’ve got.