Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart has reluctantly accepted there could yet be a long-term good for the county game should the coronavirus mean there is no domestic action this season for the first time since the Second World War.
The global outbreak of COVID-19 has seen the start of the 2020 English campaign delayed until July 1 at the earliest.
And with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) facing a potential loss of £380 million ($471 million) if there’s no cricket at all, officials have made it clear that salvaging lucrative men’s internationals, albeit behind closed doors, is their priority.
While far from happy at the prospect of a first season without county cricket since the Second World War, former England captain Stewart told the Telegraph: “If county cricket is not a cost effective exercise then I can understand why there would be opposition and the view ‘why not save money and play next year?’.
“Tough decisions have to be made for the health of individuals but (also) the health of the game,” he added. “Those tough financial decisions will not just be about this year but will be important for the next five years as well. In financial terms county clubs are generally on the same level as division one or two football clubs and everyone will find it hard if for example it costs £30,000 a week for testing twice a week. Times that by 18 counties and then that is a massive figure.”
The likes of Rory Burns, the Curran brothers and Ollie Pope have all stepped off the Surrey production belt and into the England side in recent season.
But Stewart worries what a season without first-class cricket might mean for player development, especially if English rising stars are unable to gain overseas experience later in the year.
“It could be another year by the time they play again. By then they may have gone 18 months without any competitive cricket,” he said. “A lot of younger players when they first leave school will go to Australia for the winter and play grade cricket. Will Australia be letting people in? We (Britain) have the second-highest death rate in the world (from the coronavirus). If you flipped it and asked would we be sending our lads to somewhere with the second-highest death rate I think there would be doubts.”