The coronavirus may have struck shortly before the English cricket season was due to start but it threatens to have major implications for the game worldwide.
English officials still believe they can fit a full international programme of three-Test series against both the West Indies and Pakistan, as well as one-day internationals with Australia and Ireland, into a season that won’t start until July 1 at the earliest.
But there is now an expectation matches will have to be played behind closed doors, in the short-term at least, as a way of stopping the spread of Covid-19.
That would, however, still allow the England and Wales Cricket Board to honour lucrative broadcast contracts and avoid the nightmare scenario of a completely wiped out season that could cost the organisation $463m.
Below AFP Sport looks at the key issues confronting cricket amid the pandemic.
Will teams go on tour?
— West Indies and Pakistan, two of crickets less well-off major teams, have both made encouraging noises about touring England, subject to health concerns and appear to ready to factor a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Britain, because of UK government regulations, into their planning.
Matches are set to be played at ‘bio-secure’ venues such as Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl or Old Trafford that have onsite hotels.
“We are trying to get to England early July so that we can get the quarantine done,” said Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Wasim Khan.
Australia were meant to play three Twenty20s and three one-day internationals in July but may delay their visit to later in the season after seeing how the West Indies and Pakistan series pan out.
“Obviously we won’t jeopardise the safety of the players,” Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
“But the best Test of that is the West Indian and Pakistan tours of England before we’re due to tour. We hope they go off without a hitch.”
What will cricket look like?
— Even if a rescheduled series between England and the West Indies starts in July, the game itself will look very different.
Not only will there be no spectators but wicket celebrations such as ‘high fives’ are set to be banned according to International Cricket Council guidelines issued last week.
Umpires have also been instructed to wear gloves to minimise the risk of infection, with bowlers no longer handing their cap and sweater to officials for the same reason.
Another ‘interim’ measure, which still requires approval at a June vote, would see bowlers banned from using saliva to shine the ball to aid swing, although they will still be allowed to apply their own sweat.
Travel restrictions could see two umpires from a home nation stand in a Test for the first time since 1994 when the ICC started moving towards neutral officials to counter accusations of bias.
The ICC’s cricket committee also said last week each team should be awarded an additional DRS review per innings.
Meanwhile, Chris Broad, the only Englishman on the ICC’s elite panel of referees, may have to officiate in matches involving his son Stuart, the England fast bowler.
What will happen to the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup and IPL?
— An ICC board meeting on Thursday May 28, could see the men’s Twenty20 World Cup, due to held in Australia from October 18, postponed.
Problems over flying in 16 teams to Australia may be reason enough to delay the event by a year.
That would allow the already postponed franchise Indian Premier League, the world’s wealthiest T20 competition, to go ahead in its place.
Manoj Badale, a part-owner of the Rajasthan Royals, told the London Daily Telegraph last month: “No IPL (in 2020) would be a big $600 million loss for the global cricket economy.”
South African director of cricket Graeme Smith has called for India’s Sourav Ganguly, a fellow former Test captain, to become the next ICC chairman.
The Proteas, hard hit by the low value of South Africa’s rand, hope to host a three-match T20 series against India in August.
What does this mean for women’s cricket?
— The women’s game was riding the crest of a wave after a crowd of over 86,000 in Melbourne saw hosts Australia beat India in the final of the T20 World Cup in March, shortly before global sport went into lockdown.
But Clare Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket, has accepted her side of the game may have to be sacrificed completely in order for more lucrative men’s matches to go ahead this season.
But there are hopes a series with South Africa could still take place in September.