The England and Wales Cricket Board has given a green light for the return of professional domestic cricket, but it is not entirely clear where this green light leads.
The ECB has approved the return of men’s county cricket on 1 August but it has yet to be decided what form this will take. The 18 counties will meet in early July and a new domestic schedule will be published soon after. There is plenty to discuss. A white ball or a red ball? Behind closed doors or with carefully monitored spectators allowed in the ground?
The preferred option for many would initially incorporate some four-day cricket, which might lead to a Lord’s final sometime in September when two teams play off for the Willis Trophy. Three regional groups of six teams have been suggested, which would allow each side to play five matches in pursuit of a place in the final.
The hope is that in September the Vitality Blast would be the main attraction. This would be welcomed by Sky TV and by the counties, who are keen to be able to provide entertainment for their loyal members as well as the men, women and children who revel in Twenty20 cricket.
It is even less straightforward for the women’s game. A commitment has been made to play some cricket in 2020 but it may differ from the planned rollout of the new women’s elite domestic structure, which is formed of eight regions. Those at the ECB explain that establishing a structure for a new competition during a pandemic has provided “specific challenges” for the women’s domestic game, most notably having the required medical personnel in place to handle stringent return-to-play protocols.
Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the ECB, is relieved at the prospect of some cricket. “It is a significant step for our game to be able to approve the start of men’s domestic cricket for August 1st and one which will be welcomed by everyone connected with county cricket,” he said. “It follows extensive consultation between the 18 First class counties, the Professional Cricketers’ Association and the ECB ... as we prepare for a domestic season unlike any the game has faced before.”
Daryl Mitchell, chairman of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, echoed those sentiments. “County cricket returning is hugely positive for our membership,” he said. “It has been an incredibly uncertain time for players, who have waited patiently for some encouraging news.”