A handful of high-profile fixtures could be moved to help maximise ticket revenues
Any changes to the domestic schedule in the 2021 English season are likely to be limited to a handful of high-value games, after the government revealed a roadmap out of lockdown last week.
While the government’s roadmap does present some challenges for a county game desperate to maximise ticket revenues, various meetings between the counties and the ECB have concluded as much will be lost as is gained by widespread fixture changes.
The T20 Blast starts on June 9, nearly two weeks ahead of the government’s anticipated date for the lifting of social-distancing measures on June 21. As a result, games played in that window will have attendances limited to a maximum 50% of ground capacity.
But while some counties hoped they might be able to swap the rounds of County Championship cricket scheduled for the weeks starting July 4 or July 11, they have now accepted this would not be practical. Several of the Championship games due to be played over that period are at ‘festival’ grounds such as Scarborough, Cheltenham and Chesterfield, with the counties involved confident of good attendances.
There would also be issues with TV schedules – Sky Sports have plans to show T20 games in the period before the lifting of social-distancing measures – and ground availability, with the Ageas Bowl likely to host the World Test Championship final from June 18. Plans to play the entire group stage of the Blast in the period after social distancing has been lifted were also abandoned as impractical as there were only 29 days available in which to play the tournament. As a result, it has been decided the published fixture list will not be changed.
There are a few exceptions. ESPNcricinfo understands that a handful of games which might be expected to sell heavily and disproportionately impact the finances of the host county could still be rearranged so they are played after all social-distancing measures are lifted. Among those games are the Middlesex vs Surrey fixture, scheduled for Lord’s on June 10, and Durham vs Yorkshire, scheduled to be played at Chester-le-Street on June 11.
It is likely those matches will be swapped with T20 fixtures deemed less likely to attract full-house crowds currently scheduled to be played later in the tournament. Tickets for the majority of fixtures in the Blast were put on sale by counties on Monday.
While Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, originally said social distancing measures would be from June 21 at the earliest, there are some hopes the government may accelerate the end of lockdown. With the number of Covid-19 cases falling steadily at present and the number of those vaccinated rising sharply, there are those around the counties hopeful full houses may return in time for the entire Blast schedule. Wales’ roadmap out of lockdown – which will affect Glamorgan’s preparations for the season – is yet to be announced.
One alteration to the Championship schedule has been confirmed, with Surrey shifting their home fixture against Gloucestershire, which starts on May 27, from Guildford to The Oval in anticipation of being able to accommodate a limited number of members. Counties have begun to unveil their pre-season schedules, with fixtures starting from the end of March.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo