England women’s home series against India is in doubt due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the ECB remains hopeful that it will be possible for the tour to be completed at some stage this summer.
India are due to play two T20Is and four ODIs in England, with the first game of the tour scheduled for June 25, but with the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK continuing to rise at speed and some form of social distancing measures likely still to be in place, it appears unlikely that the series will be played as planned.
All professional cricket in the UK has been postponed until May 28 at the earliest, though there is a growing acceptance that the date will be pushed back. Contingency planning for games scheduled from June onwards is ongoing, but for now, the ECB remains hopeful that fixtures after that date can be fulfilled in some form as possible.
The tour is due to finish on July 9, and England’s next engagement is against South Africa on September 1, while India have no confirmed fixtures after that series. As a result, it may well be possible to find a window for the fixtures in July or August as necessary, particularly if the inaugural season of the Hundred is shortened or pushed back to 2021.
Meanwhile, the ECB has ring-fenced the £20m it has pledged to invest in women’s and girls’ cricket over the next two years as part of its 2019 action plan, allaying fears that investment might be cut due to the financial impact of the pandemic.
A major part of that plan involved the creation of eight semi-professional regional development centres, with a 50-over competition between the new teams due to start in late August.
But the crisis has delayed the process of launching those centres, as the ECB re-evaluates the details of the new domestic structure’s first full season. It remains unclear when and if it will be possible to stage games this summer, and as such various different scenarios are being modelled.
The initial financial commitment of £20million over two years leaves some room for flexibility – it seems likely that most of that investment will take place in 2021 – but the intention to honour that pledge is a boost for the women’s game at a time of uncertainty.
“The ECB remains committed to the transforming women’s and girls’ cricket action plan, despite the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” an ECB spokesperson said.
“In light of the current health crisis we need to re-evaluate the logistics of the first year of the new elite domestic structure, both on the field and off the field – including player and staff recruitment, and fixture dates.
“We are currently collaborating closely with our regional hosts and modelling a range of alternative scenarios, including a later start to the season and a reduced season. Although it is not yet on the agenda, a postponement of the first year of elite domestic structure fixtures is also a scenario that may need to come under consideration.
“The board’s initial two-year investment into this long-term plan remains unaffected and close discussions with our regional hosts will continue as the situation becomes clearer.”
Last week, the England women’s squad announced that they have taken a pay cut for the next three months, in line with their coaches and support staff.
Sri Lanka’s Shehan Madushanka suspended for alleged possession of heroin
Sri Lankan fast bowler Shehan Madushanka has been suspended from all forms of cricket with immediate effect for alleged possession of illegal drugs, SLC announced after he was arrested and later put in remand custody.
Madushanka was allegedly in possession of a little over two grams of heroin when arrested on Saturday, Sri Lanka Police’s media division had confirmed to ESPNcricinfo. According to an SLC statement, the decision to suspend will stand until the board conducts a full inquiry of the matter.
The 25-year-old Madushanka has played one ODI and two T20Is, all between January and February 2018, and has not been in the frame for national selection after that. He has, however, been active as a cricketer and was playing in Sri Lanka’s domestic competitions before the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect.
More to follow…
Queensland opposed to Cricket Australia cuts despite job losses
Queensland’s chairman Chris Simpson has confirmed the state association remains allied with New South Wales and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) in questioning Cricket Australia’s chosen remedy for the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as all three organisations continue to push the governing body for more information.
While Queensland Cricket announced on Monday that it would be cutting 32 staff from its books in anticipation of a 25% funding cut from CA, Simpson said this move was necessary largely because his state was in a far weaker position than NSW, the other dissenter. Queensland’s most recent annual report listed reserves of A$7.6 million among total assets worth A$18.3 million, far less than NSW or Victoria, to name two states, can call upon.
At the same time, Simpson outlined that, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, Queensland’s board was trying to ensure that its agreement would see any reduction in distribution for 2020-21 revised back upwards if the summer produced a more favourable financial result than CA is currently forecasting.
“We have not signed the agreement,” Simpson told News Corp. “We are trying to learn how long their proposed cuts run for. It is a bit ambiguous how they have presented it. We want clarity on the term and we also want to make sure 25% is the ceiling.
“We also want to make sure that should things be better than what they are modelling – and every day we are getting more positive about the prospect of serious cricket content this season – we don’t want to lock into something that is to the detriment of the states.”
Simpson’s words are similar to those conveyed by the NSW chairman John Knox and his chief executive Lee Germon to staff and stakeholders earlier this month. “As a result of the Cricket Australia proposal, some states have already reduced their commitment to community cricket, potentially impacting the long-term future of the game,” they said in an email. “We believe that any decision to reduce the agreed state distributions should be delayed until there is a better understanding of whether international cricket will be played next season.”
The ACA has contacted states and indicated a willingness to preserve community staffing and programs via financial assistance from the “grassroots fund” carved out of MoU cash and overseen by both the ACA and CA. The fund has dished out almost A$4.5 million in funding for equipment and facilities since 2017, and is expected to have about A$3 million available this year. CA is due to give its latest indicative forecast of Australian Cricket Revenue – from which the players’ fixed percentage of revenue is derived – by Friday.
Queensland’s cuts have included a major downsizing of the Brisbane Heat’s operation and the exit of the long-serving selector, coach and manager Justin Sternes. They have also seen community cricket programs significantly affected, but Simpson said the state had been left with little option.
“We have been told for a long time how big a deal the Indian tour is, so to hear that optimism brings the depth of the cuts into focus,” Simpson said. “Eighty percent of our funding comes from one source [CA] and they have said they potentially have solvency issues, so it is our duty to act on that information. We disagree with a lot of the information provided but we still had to act. NSW have a very big book and they can ride it out. We can’t.”
The Australia and NSW fast bowler Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, has given his strong support to the state’s own decision to push back against CA. “In terms of NSW they’ve been pretty strong in holding their position and I think from the little updates I’ve read from NSW, it’s a big part of their plan – to be part of growing the game in the state,” he said
“That’s obviously where we have all come from, as international and elite cricketers, we’ve come from the junior clubs to grade clubs all the way to international cricket. Full credit to the NSW board in trying to, at this stage, hang onto all of their staff and their grass roots at the moment.
“Cricket hasn’t lost any games yet in this country, obviously the Bangladesh [tour] has been postponed but there hasn’t been any cricket lost yet. So it’s going to be an interesting few weeks with state contracting then us all returning to training – I guess we’re going to see what staff we’ve got.”
Rahul Dravid says bio-secure bubbles not a foolproof route to resuming cricket
Rahul Dravid believes sport across the globe will need a controlled lifting of restrictions if it is to thrive again, and playing in a bio-secure bubble will not always be a viable solution even as governing bodies grapple with the prospect of resuming behind closed doors in the Covid-19 era.
“A lot of these things are going to be dictated by the situation and how it evolves,” Dravid said on a webinar organised by YUVA, a non-profit organisation for underprivileged sportspersons in India. “In case of the bio-bubble, you do all the testing and quarantine and then on day two of the Test match, what if one player, for example, tests positive? What happens then?
“The rules, as they stand now, will see the Public Health Department coming in and putting everyone in quarantine, that ends the Test, that series, even though they may have incurred a lot of expense to create that [secure] environment.
“So we have to work with the health authorities and governments to work out ways in which, if someone tests positive, you don’t cancel the full tournament. If we are talking of the environment of sport, given the rules that exist now, it will be difficult for sport to resume.”
Dravid also felt quarantining players for a set period before and after the event in a crowded cricket calendar may not be entirely practical. He was responding to a question on the possibility of West Indies playing in England in a “bio-secure” environment, with lengthy preparation times.
As things stand, West Indies are prepared to travel to England a month in advance to acclimatise and complete their quarantine before playing a three-Test series. England players, as per reports, may need to be away from their families for up to nine weeks, until the end of the three-Test series against Pakistan in August.
“With the kind of calendar that we have, the kind of travelling involved for the players, it’s virtually going to be impossible to do that.”
Rahul Dravid on long quarantine periods
“A lot of these rules will have to keep changing. It is a bit unrealistic to have things at the level the ECB is talking about for every series [14-day quarantine period before and after every series],” Dravid said. “Obviously, the ECB is very keen to conduct these couple of series because they have had no other cricket and it is right in the middle of the season, and they’re keen to do this so they are potentially creating the bubble and managing it that way.
“It’s going to be unrealistic for everyone to be able to do that all the time. With the kind of calendar that we have, the kind of travelling involved for the players, it’s virtually going to be impossible to do that. We’re hoping things will evolve and we will find a better way.”
Football leagues in Germany and Korea have resumed behind closed doors. There have been talks within the BCCI of the IPL adopting a similar route, too. Dravid felt such a possibility could only benefit richer boards or leagues.
“The Bundesliga, Korean League or specific leagues where players live and train in one city, that can be managed at an elite level where there is money and infrastructure isn’t a problem,” Dravid explained. “As you go down where sports don’t have the kind of money some of these football leagues or other leagues have, it’s going to be difficult to do that. You have to find a balance to this situation. If we want to stick by the rules we’re talking about now, it’s unrealistic to start sport. There has to be easing of certain restrictions, even when people test positive, for sport to fully resume.
Dravid also underlined how crowds were integral to the sporting experience and equated elite sportspeople to “performers” who thrived on the big stage. While he didn’t think player performance would be directly affected by playing behind closed doors, he said athletes wouldn’t have the “stage to perform”.
“Elite sportspeople will adjust at a professional level,” he said. “They will find a way to not let it affect performances to a large extent. They all take pride in their performances, so they will find a way to deal with it. I don’t think there will be a dip in performance because of this but, as a whole, the experience won’t be the same.
“Players are like performers, they like to play in front of big crowds. They’re used to engaging with the fans. That adds an incredible complexity to the game. The interactions between fans and players will be missed, like the experience of playing in front of a packed house in Kolkata or anywhere in the world. As players, you want to perform. There’s a sense of wanting to perform as an artiste or actor or performer, and the players would miss that.”
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