Coronavirus: England could play intra-squad game for match practice if cricket returns this summer

ECB director of cricket Ashley Giles is open to the idea of England’s men playing an intra-squad game for match-practice in the event some international cricket is to be played this summer.

The uncertainty of this season’s programme remains amid the coronavirus pandemic. No cricket will be played before 28 May and already there is talk of the County Championship, England’s first-class competition, being scrapped entirely.

Test captain Joe Root and his limited-overs counterpart Eoin Morgan are receptive to the idea of adhering to as much of the original 2020 schedule as possible by playing long and short-form matches alongside each other in whatever space there may be in the calendar. With international cricket the priority, followed by the T20 Blast and The Hundred, competitive preparations, especially for red ball cricket, will be non-existent.

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As such, the ECB will have to get creative, especially when it comes to providing adequate warm-up games for West Indies and Pakistan who were due to tour for three and four-match Test series, respectively. During 2019’s packed fixture-list, the touring Australians put on their own Australia v Australia A match ahead of the Ashes which proved especially useful for replicating high-intensity conditions.

“If we had to, I think that would be a decent idea or a decent way around a problem  if we weren’t playing cricket more broadly,” answer Giles when the prospect of England versus England Lions was put to him. “I think we could do that.”

“I guess the benefit is I believe all 18 county grounds are still up and running and their ground staff are in preparing pitches and practice facilities. I don’t think there would be any shortage of facilities. We’ll be alright on that front. Or whether it’s at Loughborough.”

Unlike most other sports, the ECB do not need to make any immediate decision on the summer. Though the season was due to start on Sunday with the first round of the County Championship, the 28 May date has bought them time to assess the rest of the competitions. However as the days go on, further backlogs will develop and, at present, the ECB, in constant dialogue with the boards of those who were due to tour, including Australia for a limited overs series, have various contingency plans. One aspect that seems consistent across them is that Test matches and limited overs matches will not take place on the same day.”

“There will obviously come a point where you can’t do that anymore and although we can play some white and red ball cricket along side each other, you can’t over lay them,” said Giles. “You can’t play two games on the same day. I don’t think that’s possible. So at some point international cricket is going to drop off. But I’m still hopefully right now we won’t get to that point.”

Giles was also not convinced about the prospect of playing these series overseas, even flipping the West Indies series to take place in the Caribbean. The complications of travel restrictions, needing to self-quarantine and everything else associated with combating the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, Giles has committed to doing everything possible to play cricket this summer.

“We will do whatever we have to do, we will be flexible.  By no means would that be ideal, this goes far beyond that. There is bigger picture stuff here.  Apart from a health crisis, internally business wise part of our role is to keep business going and keep the lights on and we take that very seriously and we play a big role in that as international teams again working in partnership with the counties on what is best for the whole game.”

On the performance side of things, Giles feels a positive of potentially having Test and limited overs matches running concurrently would be the chance, as he puts it, to get a better look at other players and produce a broader group to pick from in the future. “In that sense, it might be an opportunity.”

The immediate issue for players is gaining match fitness. Aside from the part of the Test squad to Sri Lanka who returned home before the first Test, and those out in the Pakistan Super League, every other English cricketer has been getting into pre-season.

Players like James Anderson, for instance, who was rehabilitating from a rib injury that put him out of the South Africa tour at the start of 2020, was building himself back up to fighting fit and would require overs under his belt compared to, say, a batsman who can just about replicate elements of matchplay with an intense net session. The ECB science and medical teams estimate that match fitness takes between four and eight weeks depending on the skillset, age and industry history.

All centrally contracted cricketers have a specific programme to adhere to, along with a care package which consists of weights and supplements to keep them ticking over while isolating. And though technical aspects of training are unable to be fulfilled, Giles has implored England players to do their utmost to maintain their high levels of fitness while cooped up.

“My only ask of the players is that there is no real excuse why you can’t keep yourself fit during this period. You could be jumping up and down in your front room, you can still go for a jog, you can use your home equipment. There’s a full range of stuff you could be doing so that our players are ready when we get that green light. We might be quite rushed at that point but at least physically they are ready to get on with it.”

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