Hampshire’s players back off furlough as counties set to discuss format of shortened 2020 campaign

Hampshire's cricketers are returning to training tomorrow. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.Hampshire's cricketers are returning to training tomorrow. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.
Hampshire's cricketers are returning to training tomorrow. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.
Hampshire’s cricketers are tomorrow returning from furlough in preparation for the start of the domestic season in a month’s time.

The playing staff - apart from England trio James Vince, Liam Dawson and Mason Crane - have been in lockdown since mid-March.

But they can now return to training following the completion of a covid-19 risk assessment. The training will be held at Arundel as a 30-man England squad is currently based at The Ageas Bowl.

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Hampshire's return-to-training programme and all associated sessions will be overseen by the club’s medical department to ensure adherence to all appropriate health and safety guidelines, including the implementation of strict social distancing.

The players’ return to training will be on a part-time basis, while sessions will see players work within small groups of six and, along with support staff, be subject to daily medical checks and screenings.

Vince, Dawson and Crane have been training following their recent return as part of the ECB’s 55-man group ahead of England’s first Test against the West Indies at The Ageas Bowl a week tomorrow.

The 18 first-class counties will debate the structure of the domestic season at a meeting after being given the go-ahead to start on August 1 by the ECB.

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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.

Health and safety remains the prime concern for the ECB, 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.

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‘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 this month with two-day friendlies against Middlesex and Yorkshire respectively.

Yorkshire will also play Durham at Headingley behind closed doors between July 27-28.

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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.’