Cricket's comeback from Covid-19: the state of the game

It is just over two months since cricket came to an abrupt halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic and, like all sports, the game now faces a huge challenge to resurrect itself. The early signs of a return are starting to take shape, but a lot of work remains. ESPNcricinfo’s correspondents sum up the state of each Full Member nation.

Afghanistan

(Danyal Rasool)

State of (non) play

Afghanistan got through with a three-match T20I series in March, but that’s their only international cricket this year so far. The Asia Cup is next, though it looks unlikely to go ahead. The Afghanistan Cricket Board did have an agreement to travel to Zimbabwe outside the purview of the FTP for a five-match T20I series, but the final call on it has yet to be taken.

How are the finances?

On a ventilator, from the looks of things. Available sources of funding have dried up swiftly, and the ACB has been forced to cut staff salaries, with head coach Lance Klusener, assistant coach Nawroz Mangal and batting coach HD Ackerman taking 25% pay cuts that will rise to 50% next month. The financial pain isn’t just pandemic-related, with the ACB reeling since a major sponsor, Alokozay Group of Companies, withdrew after differences with the board. The Afghanistan government grant contributes about 15% of the board’s total finances, and that is yet to be distributed among rearranged priorities due to the pandemic.

What matters most?

Money. The crippled finances mean Afghanistan may be forced to let go of their coaching staff if they are unable to pay their salaries, and they are in desperate need of sponsors. CEO Lutfullah Stanikzai told ESPNcricinfo recently they were forced to find sponsors on an ad-hoc basis, and were looking mainly to Indian sponsors to help stem the bleeding. To make matters worse, clothing sponsor Tykia terminated its sponsorship contract, due to run until the end of this year, because of the pandemic.

The comeback plans

There is severe doubt about whether the 2020 Shpageeza League can be held at all, and besides that, Afghanistan are beholden to external forces, which will largely determine when they resume. If Zimbabwe green lights the T20I series, scheduled for later in the year, that could be the first internationals they play. There is a one-off Test scheduled against Australia, though you’d expect that isn’t as much a priority for Cricket Australia as the series against India will be later in the year.

Australia

(Andrew McGlashan)

State of (non) play

Australia’s season ended abruptly but only a little early when the ODI series against New Zealand was curtailed, and then the T20I series across the Tasman postponed along with the women’s tour to South Africa. The Test tour to Bangladesh in June will not be happening and the limited-overs trip to England in July is all-but sure not to take place, but could be played in September. There was also due to be a series against Zimbabwe in August in the Top End of Australia but that is unlikely to happen.

How are the finances?

On a knife-edge, if you believe Cricket Australia, but there is significant skepticism as to whether things are as bad as have been made out and which has led to most CA staff being stood down on 20% pay until the end of June at least, with redundancies expected down the line. There are also ongoing talks between CA and the players’ union over potential pay cuts. The states are bracing for a 25% cut in funding, although some are still resisting, while there have already been significant job losses with the impacts also being felt down to community and grassroots level.

What matters most?

Much of the uncertainty stems from the fate of the India tour later in the year, which could cost CA A$300 million if it doesn’t take place, although it is looking increasingly as having a good chance of going ahead albeit without crowds. There are various plans mooted including using a reduced number of venues to aid bio-security protocols.

The comeback plans

Restrictions around Australia are slowly being eased as Covid-19 numbers remain low. However, travel remains significantly limited and international teams will likely need dispensation to arrive and possible quarantine which is a huge challenge for the T20 World Cup in October. One of the contingencies being discussed is making use of a trans-Tasman travel ‘bubble’ for Australia and New Zealand to play each other. Signs are promising, though, that domestically the season should be able to get underway as scheduled in late September. Players could be back training in the next couple of weeks.

Bangladesh

(Mohammad Isam)

State of (non) play

Around mid-March, the Bangladesh Cricket Board first postponed the T20Is for the Bangabandhu birth centenary, after which the Dhaka Premier League, the domestic one-day competition, stopped after just one round of matches. Bangladesh’s tour of Ireland in May as well as Australia’s visit for two Tests in June have been postponed. Bangladesh’s tour of Sri Lanka in July, and New Zealand’s tour of Bangladesh in August, remain undecided.

How are the finances?

The large BCB staff – including centrally contracted national and first-class cricketers as well as foreign coaches – have been receiving their salaries on schedule. They have also already made a one-time payment to all Dhaka Premier League cricketers, and is going to pay another one-time stipend. From this point onwards, another three or four months is still going to be sustainable but like all other boards or sports bodies, it will run into trouble if the lockdown extends to more than six months, which will eat into its revenue-generating events.

What matters most?

One of those of course is the T20 World Cup in October, which is a significant source of income for the BCB, like the rest of the participating nations. On the field, the most significant miss is the matches of the World Test Championship against Pakistan and Australia, while the ones against Sri Lanka and New Zealand also hang in the balance. BCB would also be anxious about its TV deal, which is getting postponed, about whether or not Gazi TV or any other broadcaster will become a long-term partner. BCB will also be banking heavily on next season’s BPL, set to be a return for franchise-based competition, starting on time.

The comeback plans

Bangladesh continues to be under lockdown, which includes a countrywide ban on public transport and shutdown of all government and non-government offices. The players’ association has, however, petitioned for the resumption of the Dhaka Premier League after Eid-ul-Fitr, but there is hardly any plan for a straightforward return to the field. The BCB has discussed their exit plan internally, and it is likely that national cricketers will be given at least eight weeks to regain fitness. Only after Eid and if the transport suspension is taken off in June can the BCB give a better picture of cricket returning to the field, with the DPL.

England

(Valkerie Baynes)

State of (non) play

England’s squad left Sri Lanka in mid-March, days before their two-Test series was supposed to start and their entire home season has been thrown into disarray. A three-Test series against West Indies, due to begin on June 4, was postponed. However ECB is working on plans to hold those matches – followed by three Tests against Pakistan – behind closed doors, possibly from July 8. There is also the matter of trying to cram limited-overs series against Pakistan, Australia and Ireland into a revised schedule. But, with players due to return to training this week under strict health controls, there are positive signs that international cricket will be played this summer. Hopes of any county cricket being staged hang largely on the T20 Blast potentially being played late in the season after the inaugural Hundred tournament was delayed until 2021.

How are the finances?

Staring down the barrel. Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, has said the game faces losses of £380 million should the entire season be wiped out, with losses of £100 million incurred already. The ECB’s financial reserves had fallen from £73 million in 2016 to £11 million 12 months ago, impacting its ability to withstand the impact of the pandemic. Centrally contracted men’s and women’s players volunteered to take the equivalent of a 20% pay cut for three months. ECB staff have also taken pay cuts or been furloughed under a scheme whereby the government covers a proportion of their salaries. Almost all counties have placed the majority of playing and non-playing staff on furlough and some have agreed wage reductions.

What matters most?

Staging international cricket. If the ECB can fulfil some of their broadcast commitments, it could help soften the financial blow Harrison forecasts. It is worth noting that England Women face the prospect of playing second fiddle to the more lucrative men’s fixtures in the clamour for game time at limited ‘bio-secure’ venues. Should their already postponed series against India and scheduled matches against South Africa not go ahead, it would spell a significant loss of visibility for the women’s game.

The comeback plans

Some 30 elite players are returning to training at venues around the country, first on individual programmes with one or two coaches and a physio observing social distancing guidelines. If health authorities decide it is safe, players will be allowed to train in small groups and in closer contact at a later date. As international arrivals to the UK are likely to require to self-isolate for 14 days, West Indies would aim to arrive a month before any scheduled start. England are preparing to operate separate Test and white-ball squads to fit as many fixtures as possible into a truncated season, meaning selectors face tough choices over the likes of cross-format stars Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer.

India

(Nagraj Gollapudi)

State of (non) play

Other than the IPL, India had no cricket planned in the summer. In July. they are scheduled to tour Sri Lanka for a limited-overs series followed by a Zimbabwe tour comprising three ODIs in August. Then India are scheduled to host England and Australia in white-ball cricket, which falls between Asia Cup in September and T20 World Cup starting October. Then comes the four-Test series in Australia starting November.

How are the finances?

Being the richest cricket board has its perks, so the BCCI is yet to feel the pinch from the pandemic financially. International player contracts are up for renewal only in October, by when the BCCI is hopeful cricket will resume.

What matters most?

Conducting the IPL. Not just the franchises and players, but even the BCCI derives a large portion of its revenue from the most lucrative cricket tournament due to the record media rights deal signed in 2017. In case the IPL does not take place in 2020, the BCCI stands to lose income to the tune of INR 4000 crore ($0.53 billion approx) from the media rights deal. As a domino effect, the BCCI would then be forced to review all costs including payments to state associations and possibly even player contracts.

The comeback plans

From Monday, India entered the fourth phase of lockdown lasting until May 31. However, the government provided a glimmer of hope for sport saying sporting facilities and stadiums can be re-opened, but without crowds. The BCCI, though, has made it clear it will not rush the players back to training or play until conditions are safe and also the travel restrictions are eased. As soon as that happens the BCCI will devise a plan for players to get back to individual training.

Ireland

(Matt Roller)

State of (non) play

April’s tour of Zimbabwe was postponed a matter of weeks after it had been announced, while the whole home summer has been scrapped: the series against Bangladesh was the first to go, and the plug was pulled on fixtures against New Zealand and Pakistan last week. Ireland are hopeful the three-match ODI series in England will go ahead, but there are logistical problems to iron out. The board announced last week that no cricket activity would resume before June, including training. The domestic season, including the ill-fated Euro T20 Slam, looks doubtful.

How are the finances?

Precarious. That is nothing new – CEO Warren Deutrom had to bail his own governing body out with a €100,000 ($112,000 approx.) loan back in 2018, and financial constraints had caused several games to be postponed or cancelled even before the pandemic hit. The most recent set of accounts showed that cash reserves had been depleted to just €13,470 ($14,700 approx.). That said, costs are currently low, with most non-playing staff furloughed and others taking temporary cuts. The players are still being paid their retainers, but most of their income is from match fees.

What matters most?

The T20 World Cup. Ireland are more reliant than most on ICC distributions, so the postponement of that tournament and the resulting loss of TV revenues would be a serious blow. There will also be a battle to make sure that they are not squeezed out in a redrawn FTP, as bigger boards look to schedule series against more lucrative opposition.

The comeback plans

Deutrom said that Ireland would “try to be as flexible as possible” regarding the England series, but admitted “numerous challenges have to be resolved” regarding dates, bio-secure venues, and quarantine requirements. The long-term worry is that it may prove difficult to rearrange postponed series, with staging costs high due to the lack of a permanent home ground.

New Zealand

(Andrew McGlashan)

State of (non) play

New Zealand had to make a hasty departure from Australia in March when the borders started to close, which also meant the three home T20Is were postponed. Since then a European tour involving Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland has been cancelled while a visit to the Caribbean in July looks certain to go the same way with West Indies set to be in England if plans come together. The women’s team was due to tour Sri Lanka in April.

How are the finances?

Holding out at the moment. NZC have held off any drastic measures, instead switching staff to a four-day working week and asking them to use annual leave. Being the off-season has bought them some time to assess the longer-term impact of the situation and the fact they had a visit by India shortly before the pandemic hit could prove vital. David White, the CEO, has committed to the domestic men’s and women’s game and the pathway programmes to going ahead.

What matters most?

Having an international season in some form will be vital, although whether the scheduled visits of Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh happen remains to be seen. There are discussions being had about taking advantage of a trans-Tasman travel ‘bubble’ if international movement remains restricted. Being a smaller cricket nation, the global events are key to NZC and it will be hoping the worst of the situation has passed by early next year and that it can host the women’s World Cup as planned.

The comeback plans

At this stage it appears unlikely New Zealand’s players will see any action before the start of the home season. White has said he expects the domestic summer to proceed as scheduled as New Zealand deals effectively with the pandemic and continues to loosen restrictions. It could be that the women’s tour to Australia in September is the first international action.

Pakistan

(Danyal Rasool and Umar Farooq)

State of (non) play

Pakistan looked as if they might just about get through the PSL, but had to cancel it before the knockout stages had begun. The second Test of a series against Bangladesh in April, as well as a solitary ODI, had to be postponed too. Tours to Ireland and Netherlands are confirmed not to be taking place.

How are the finances?

For another eight to ten months, the PCB’s financial health remains adequate. It hasn’t been required to slash salaries but did stop investing in infrastructure. With no home series scheduled in the next seven months, it means no potential spending. In the last two months, it incurred an estimated loss of PKR 200 million ($1.2 million approx.) from gate revenues alone following the postponement of the PSL semi-finals and final, and the matches that were played in empty stadiums. Not hosting the final leg of the Bangladesh series also hurt it, but this is money it can earn back once cricket resumes.

What matters most?

There is growing confidence Pakistan could restart cricket sooner than most other countries, with an agreement to proceed with a Test series against England in August. There had also been talk that touring England would be on a quid pro quo basis, with England committing in principle to come to Pakistan for a series. While there is no evidence that such an agreement has been made, the PCB will be hopeful of it, and such a tour will become significantly likelier if the series in England goes ahead.

The comeback plans

Pakistan have, so far, been spared the worst of the pandemic, though cases have begun rising exponentially of late. Flights have resumed, albeit only domestic ones. There are plans, however vague, to finish what little was left of the PSL as soon as possible, though it is far from clear precisely when that will happen, given the respective availability of players from around the world.

South Africa

(Firdose Moonda)

State of (non) play

South Africa managed to complete their men’s home international programme but the ODI squad returned home early from a three-match series in India in mid-March, just as the country entered its lockdown. Their white-ball tour of Sri Lanka, scheduled for June, has been postponed and their two-Test, five-T20I visit to the Caribbean, set for mid-July to mid-August, appears unlikely. The women’s home series against Australia and away tour of the West Indies have been postponed. Domestically, the semi-finals and final of the franchise one-day cup and the final two rounds of the first-class competition could not be played.

How are the finances?

Cricket South Africa entered the summer planning for a loss of R654 million ($35.4 million approx.) over the next four-year cycle owing to loss-making home fixtures and massive expenditure, while the South Africa Cricketers Association put that figure at close to R1 billion ($54.2 million approx.). That number may have changed following an administrative overhaul but with the game’s major sponsor, Standard Bank, opting not to renew their deal after it expired in April, CSA is still in a hole. Despite that, and the fact that suspended CEO Thabang Moroe is still being paid his salary of R356,000 per month ($19,000 approx.) while his disciplinary hearing continues, there have been no pay cuts or job losses at CSA yet. If the pandemic affects the home summer, that may change.

What matters most?

India are due to play three T20Is in South Africa in August, and even if the matches are pushed back as far as March 2021, the earnings from those fixtures could tide South Africa over. Should the visit not take place in this financial year, CSA could find itself in trouble. The home summer, which will see an expanded Mzansi Supitser League, is also in the back of CSA’s mind but with several months still to go, it has yet to turn their full attention to making it happen.

The comeback plans

At this stage, none. South Africa has entered its eighth week of lockdown, which remains among the strictest in the world. For the first five weeks from March 26 to May 1, all outdoor activity was prohibited, but since May 1, individuals are allowed to run, cycle or walk between 6am and 9am. This may change in the coming weeks but group activity is still not permitted. That means CSA has had to cancel planned winter camps and do not have an indication of when players may return to training. CSA has indicated they would require a minimum of six weeks of practice before the players would be ready for competition.

Sri Lanka

(Andrew Fidel Fernando)

State of (non) play

The two-Test series against England and an inbound limited-overs series against South Africa have both been postponed, with Sri Lanka Cricket hoping that the England series can be rescheduled for January 2021 (the ECB is yet to confirm). With Covid-19 seemingly under control on the island, though, SLC has also asked India and Bangladesh to tour in July, so they can honour their mid-year touring commitments. Much of this depends on how the pandemic continues to play out in all three countries, and also on the easing of travel restrictions. The club-based first-class competition was also cut short by the curfew in Sri Lanka, but this is never really a major focus for SLC.

How are the finances?

Modest. This is the year in which SLC was hoping to lock in a new broadcast deal, and even before the pandemic there were hiccups, with less money offered by prospective broadcasters than the board was hoping for. Sri Lanka will be desperate that the India and England series scheduled for this year can be nailed down and confirmed as soon as possible to drive up the contract price.

What matters most?

The India series, which was supposed to start in June, and featured three ODIs and three T20Is. If SLC ingratiate themselves with Sri Lanka’s government enough – something board members are infamously fond of doing – the government may offer the board substantial support to host India, providing the medical assistance and security such a tour would require.

The comeback plans

The situation in Sri Lanka is still evolving. There have been fewer than 1000 Covid-19 cases so far, and there are presently fewer than 500 active cases – a figure that’s remained relatively steady for a couple of weeks. If the country succeeds in wiping out the disease from its shores, Sri Lanka may try to market itself as a Covid-free destination, and cricket could be a part of that. SLC has already suggested to the BCCI that the IPL should be played in Sri Lanka.

West Indies

(Nagraj Gollapudi)

State of (non) play

Cricket West Indies postponed the women’s ODI series against South Africa, scheduled in June, after the ICC called off the World Cup Qualifiers, scheduled for July in Sri Lanka. Also postponed was the South Africa A tour of the Caribbean. On the domestic front, in March it announced Barbados Pride as winner of the 2020 West Indies Championship title (first-class cricket) despite two rounds of the ten-round competition still to be played out.

How are the finances?

Dire as always. CWI is yet to find a host broadcaster after Sony Ten decided to not renew their media rights contract late 2019. International and domestic players are awaiting outstanding payments since January, but CWI is hamstrung due to the severe cash crunch which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. In fact, if the England tour is postponed, CWI might even heave a sigh of relief as it can save on match fees, allowances and travel costs.

What matters most?

Live cricket. That would provide content the CWI needs to secure media rights deals in various markets. Also the player contracts expire on June 30 so the CWI desperately needs cricket to restart. And if the men’s T20 World Cup does happen in Australia this year, it would definitely boost CWI finances from the distribution money shared by the ICC for the tournament.

The comeback plans

Of immediate concern for CWI is the men’s tour of England. Comprising three Tests the series is now expected to start in July subject to UK government permission. CWI will then work on its home schedule which includes limited-overs series against New Zealand (highly unlikely as scheduled) and a two-Test and three-match T20 tour by South Africa (August start). Then there is the CPL, which is scheduled for August 19-September 26.

Zimbabwe

(Firdose Moonda)

State of (non) play

Zimbabwe is a country where cricket is usually scarce and the pandemic has only worsened an already tough situation. Zimbabwe Cricket confirmed its 2019-20 domestic season void on May 4, which meant it did not declare winners in the first-class and one-day competitions. Their men’s national side had a six-match home series against Ireland, which was due to take place in April, postponed. They are due to travel to Australia for ODIs in August, which appears unlikely, and then hope to host India and Netherlands at the start of the home summer.

How are the finances?

ZC are notorious for being cash-strapped and not much has changed. It is heavily reliant on ICC payments and the next one is scheduled for July, which will assist in ensuring salary commitments, which have been delayed, are met. Players were paid for February at the end of April and expect to receive their March, April and May salaries in the coming months. They are also still awaiting match fees from their tour to Bangladesh earlier in the year and last year’s visit to Ireland.

What matters most?

Being considered in the calendar. Zimbabwe are not part of the World Test Championship and were not eligible to play in the T20 World Cup qualifiers because the board was suspended at the time, which means they are missing out on that tournament. As a result, Zimbabwe aren’t really sure where they stand when it comes to the calendar and former captain Brendan Taylor fears they will be among the hardest hit.

The comeback plans

Unclear. Zimbabwe’s lockdown is likely to be extended and although some sections of the economy are allowed to operate, no sporting activity is allowed. The country’s cricketers have been roped in to a nationwide awareness programme and continue to train at home while ZC facilities in Harare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe and Mutare have been disinfected in preparation for the resumption of operations.

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