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County cricket season to begin on August 1

The sport has been on hold since April because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 18 first-class counties will debate the structure of the domestic season at a meeting early next month after being given the go-ahead to start on August 1 by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Which formats will be played – with only the inaugural edition of The Hundred scrapped from this year’s calendar so far – will be at the top of the agenda and a new fixture schedule is set to be published thereafter.

County cricket has been on hold since April because of the coronavirus pandemic, but England will return to action with three Tests against the West Indies in July at the ‘bio-secure venues’ of the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford.

Health and safety remains the prime concern for the ECB, which has approved the return to training of first-class county players on or before July 1, while a dedicated working group has been formed to focus specifically on domestic details in the midst of a public health crisis.

The main objectives of this group include concentrating on developing a single set of operating procedures that will incorporate cricket operations, venue operations and medical protocols and providing a single delivery model that can be implemented across all first-class counties.

“It is a significant step for our game that we are able to approve the start of the men’s domestic season for August 1 and one which will be welcomed by everyone connected with county cricket,” ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said.

“It follows extensive consultation between the 18 first-class counties, the Professionals Cricketers’ Association and ECB and has only been achievable thanks to the significant hard work that continues to occur as we prepare for a domestic season unlike any the game has faced before.

“It must be stressed that the safety of our players, staff and officials has been the first priority through all discussions and Government guidance will continue to shape our planning and preparation.”

Surrey and Lancashire are the only two counties that have not furloughed any playing staff in recent months, and they are set to return to action towards the end of next month with two-day friendlies against Middlesex and Yorkshire respectively. Yorkshire will also play Durham at Headingley behind closed doors between July 27-28.

PCA chairman Daryl Mitchell welcomed the ECB’s announcement but echoed the governing body’s assertion that safety comes first, and players with any hesitation in coming back are set to be given a chance to opt out.

Mitchell said: “County cricket returning from August 1 is hugely positive for our membership. It has been an incredibly uncertain time for players who have waited patiently for some encouraging news.

“The health of our membership remains our number one priority and no player should be required to return to work if they do not feel comfortable due to any underlying health issues or other factors such as living with vulnerable people.

“We have pushed for an ‘opt in’ process with ECB and the counties so players can totally understand the protocols in place to mitigate risks and those who are not yet able to return feel comfortable in not opting in.”

Harrison added the ECB was “unwavering” in its commitment to women’s domestic cricket. A total of 24 England players have returned to training ahead of a potential tri-series against India and South Africa in September, while a further 25 were last week handed regional retainers.

Harrison added: “Planning for the return of the women’s domestic game remains ongoing, but our commitment to women’s domestic cricket is unwavering and we look forward to sharing further news shortly.

“Our strong preference is that the women’s new elite domestic structure starts this summer and we will work hard to ensure that happens.

“For this to be achieved, brand new infrastructure still needs to be rolled out, alongside imperatives we need in place when playing competitive cricket during a pandemic.

Ben Stokes (centre) believes club cricket should be back on the agenda.
Ben Stokes, centre, thinks club cricket should restart (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“Our first choice remains to do everything we can to start this year and build on the fantastic momentum in the women’s game.

“In the event that proves impossible, we will explore other options for play to enable our women’s players to enjoy competitive domestic cricket in 2020.”

Talks between the ECB and central government continue about a return for recreational and club cricket, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments about the ball as a “natural vector of disease” raising more questions than answers last week.

A resolution is expected in the coming days but England’s star all-rounder Ben Stokes made his thoughts on the subject clear.

“I think club cricket should start,” he said.

“For club cricket to be put back but pubs back open on Saturday is a bit strange to comprehend. I have friends who play in the leagues in the north east and Cumbria who are just dying to get back out on the field.

“Everybody needs something and for people who love cricket they are just desperate to get back on the field and start playing and the quicker that happens the better. I just don’t really see why it can’t happen especially when you see the other things that are allowed to happen.”

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