The ECB have confirmed to CRICKETher that the contracted England players will miss the first competitive matches of the 2021 season, the County T20 Cup, due to concerns about the lack of Covid-secure measures in the county game.
The Cup begins this Sunday 25 April, and will run for four weekends in April and May. England players including Tammy Beaumont had previously expressed a strong wish to participate, with many having represented their counties for years.
However, an ECB spokesperson told CRICKETher:
“County T20 cricket is classed as Recreational Cricket and therefore is covered by less stringent COVID-19 guidelines, which in turn creates a higher risk due to the lack of daily monitoring, testing and general adherence to protocols.
The risk of playing recreational cricket is that you have more people coming together from a multitude of different environments – without those elite sport protocols in place – and therefore more complex ‘contacts’ with the public.
Regional warm-up fixtures are played with elite protocols in place so England players are able to play in them.”
The ECB are naturally keen to avoid the risk of any of their players coming into contact with anyone who tests positive for COVID, as this would mean the player would have to be placed in “hard isolation”, and render them unable to train for 10 days.
Interestingly, Kirstie Gordon participated in Kent’s warm-up matches against Surrey last weekend, suggesting that she is not expected to train with the England squad ahead of the India series, and may be facing the imminent loss of her central contract.
The withdrawal of England players from the county game also raises questions about its future status in the domestic structure. In a press conference earlier this month, Heather Knight admitted that regional cricket would remain the priority for her and her side, despite her own sentimental commitment to Berkshire, who she has represented since 2010.
“The county stuff has a slightly different role in the full fixture list now,” Knight said. “The main domestic cricket that we play, and the best standard that’s going to prepare us for England, is going to be the Rachael Heyhoe Flint stuff, so that’s going to be the priority. In terms of playing for Berkshire, as a sentimental thing potentially, but the reality is I’ve got to pick and choose the cricket that’s going to help me best perform for England.”