Yorkshire CCC fear a season played behind closed doors

Mark Arthur at Emerald Headingley Mark Arthur at Emerald Headingley
Mark Arthur at Emerald Headingley | jpress
Mark Arthur believes it is increasingly unlikely that cricket will take place in front of crowds this year following another delay to the start of the season.

The Yorkshire chief executive feels it is probable that all games will have to be held behind closed doors after the England and Wales Cricket Board announced that the campaign will not now begin until at least July 1.

Arthur is hopeful that cricket will resume around that date with matches either screened on television or live-streamed to supporters. He also hopes it will still be possible to play a significant chunk of Championship cricket.

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However, he dismissed suggestions that fixtures could potentially be moved overseas to Abu Dhabi, arguing it would not be cost-effective. The ECB has already warned that the sport faces a £300m black hole if there is no cricket this summer, and the governing body is set to postpone its inaugural Hundred competition.

The T20 Blast, so vital to the counties’ financial health, will be played as late in the summer as possible to ensure that there is still a chance of it proceeding in recognisable form and, theoretically, in the presence of spectators.

However, with scientists warning that significant social distancing will have to remain in place for at least the rest of the year, the sport faces a huge logistical headache just to get games on behind closed doors, with ECB chief executive Tom Harrison warning that “our biggest challenge, along with other sports, is how we could seek to implement a bio-secure solution that offers optimum safety and security for all concerned”.

Asked whether it is likely that all games will have to be played without crowds, Arthur said: “It’s becoming ever more possible.

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“Social distancing, and so on – it all has to be taken into account when a decision is made as to whether you’re playing behind closed doors or otherwise.

“There’s an argument, in our stadium, where you can accommodate up to 18,500 people, that you could have social distancing within the ground. But then you’d have to consider things like toilet facilities, which would have to be monitored, a one-in, one-out type of thing, and it would become quite difficult when you think about all the various factors.

“It looks ever more necessary (all cricket behind closed doors). People can easily read between the lines of the government advice that comes out on a daily basis, and all cricket is doing at the moment is following the same information that the public are getting. The priority will be to get cricket on our television screens because, at the end of the day, it pays most of the bills.”

The season had been due to start on April 12 and was then delayed until May 28 at the earliest. One does not require a degree in epidemiology to deduce that further delays are conceivable, with nine Championship rounds already lost.

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The ECB hopes to reschedule all international cricket for the England men’s and women’s teams between July and the end of September but has confirmed that recreational cricket remains suspended indefinitely.

“I’m an eternal optimist, and I hope we can get cricket going by July 1,” added Arthur. “It’s all I can say because no one knows how this will pan out.

“There will be various logistical challenges, such as where the opposition are going to stay, which hotels. Might it be that we play our home matches first at Yorkshire as we could put the opposition up in the Lodge, our on-site hotel? I just don’t know.”

Despite the hit to the Championship, the ECB says a block for red-ball cricket is still its intention. Yorkshire were due to play 14 games in the Championship First Division and Arthur said: “We’re still hoping to play some Championship cricket.

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“I think for the competition to have any integrity, you’d have to play at least half the fixtures, but whether that’s possible we’ll have to wait and see.”

To the idea that some county cricket could be played in Abu Dhabi later in the year, Arthur said: “I think the costs would be prohibitive.

“In a year when we are looking to make savings because of the amount of cricket that we’ve lost, I would question the rationale of actually going overseas at that particular time and the overhead it would create for all the counties. I don’t see the point.”

Yorkshire’s players and most of the staff are currently on furlough and the club is now considering whether to extend that in light of the latest cut-off point of June 30 under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.