English cricket has received a significant boost with the news that Australia are set to confirm their limited-overs tour in September.
Confirmation of the tour, which will see the sides play three ODIs and three T20Is, means England’s men’s team should be able to fulfil all 18 international fixtures which were scheduled ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the ECB should be able to avoid the bleakest financial predictions that were made ahead of the season.
Significant challenges remain, however. The ECB management recently warned the first-class counties that the next broadcast deal could be worth up to 50% less than the current deal – due, in part, to less competition in the market – meaning a period of cost-cutting is inevitable.
ESPNcricinfo understands that among the options being considered is a partial move away from Lord’s as an administrative base and a move away from Loughborough as a performance base. While it is understood that the ECB is given a relatively favourable rental agreement at Lord’s by the MCC, there is ongoing consideration towards moving to less expensive offices elsewhere.
This possibility has been considered previously. This time, however, there is not only a financial incentive but a growing view that a game intent on becoming more inclusive for all aspects of society might benefit from a move away from St John’s Wood, the suburb of London where Lord’s is situated, which is one of the most expensive and exclusive parts of the country.
Thought will also be given to moving away from the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough. While the centre has outstanding facilities, there are suggestions it is largely replicating those offered at various other major grounds.
Edgbaston, which is about to embark on the next stage of its redevelopment, is one location that is sure to be considered as an alternative for both the administrative and the performance set-ups. In the next few weeks, building work will begin at the ground on new residential and commercial premises which could easily be fitted as required by the ECB. Emirates Old Trafford is also likely to be considered.
The most likely conclusion at this stage is that ECB could set up hubs in different areas of the country in order both to cut costs and to improve its relationships with the counties. While a complete move from London is unlikely, it does seem the ECB will follow other major companies – such as Channel 4, the BBC and HSBC – in moving away from the capital.
A reduction in the headcount at the ECB, which has risen sharply in recent years, also appears inevitable. As part of a likely restructure, the pay of some executives could also be cut.
While confirmation of the Australia tour will ease the ECB’s most immediate concerns, other scheduling issues remain. Most pertinently, there is ongoing discussion about a possible cut to the number of Tests played on the tour to India (from late January to late March) with suggestions it could be trimmed from five Tests to four or even three.
England were originally scheduled to play three ODIs and three T20Is in India in September and October before returning for a five-Test series starting in January. Now, they will attempt to fit in as many of the limited-overs matches and Tests as possible in a window from late January to late March. At this stage, the tour is still scheduled to be staged in India, though there remains a strong possibility it will be moved to the UAE.
There is also doubt about the viability of England’s limited-overs tour of South Africa, which had been pencilled in for December. The current Covid situation in South Africa suggests the tour would need to be staged behind closed doors in a biosecure bubble, which might prove both problematic logistically and prohibitively costly.
Looking ahead to the 2021 English summer, the ECB is still waiting on confirmation over whether the World Test Championship final, which is planned for June, is to be postponed. In any event, it looks probable the Asia Cup, pushed back from September, will be held in June, which could see England’s fixture list hit as a consequence. England are due to host Sri Lanka for three T20Is and three ODIs from June, Pakistan (three T20Is, three ODIs) and India (five Tests).
There are no immediate prospects of senior tours to either Pakistan or West Indies – the sides which have so far toured England in far-from-perfect circumstances this summer – though it appears there is some thought towards extending the next England tour of West Indies, in early 2022, from two Tests to three.