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Coronavirus: ECB must prioritise revenue-driving games to lessen financial crisis, says Michael Atherton

'One-Day Cup and County Championship are most likely to be curtailed'

The ECB is consulting counties on when English cricket may be able to open its doors this summer
Image: The ECB is consulting counties on when English cricket may be able to open its doors this summer

English cricket will have to prioritise revenue-driving fixtures to limit the likely financial crisis the game will face due to coronavirus, says Michael Atherton.

The England and Wales Cricket Board is meeting with first-class counties on Thursday to make a decision on the viability of the upcoming professional season, due to begin on April 12, after recommending the suspension of recreational cricket.

The start of the County Championship campaign is likely to be delayed, while other competitions could be cut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sky Sports Cricket pundit Atherton says the game's decision-makers have his sympathy ahead of what will be "a tough two or three months for everybody".

"These are unprecedented times so they've got a very tricky time ahead of them," said the former England captain. "It all depends how long this isolation period goes on for.

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Sky Sports' David Lloyd says the health of the nation comes before sport and does not expect cricket to be played for some time

"But a best-case scenario, I suppose, is that you might get a cricket season starting around mid-season - maybe in late in June or July - and then you've got to work out how you can squeeze the priorities into a three-month period, if indeed you get that.

"The things that would have to be prioritised would be the revenue-driving games because clearly the game is going to face a short-term financial crisis over the next two or three months; everybody will have cash-flow issues - county clubs, recreational clubs, the ECB and so on.

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"So they'll have to prioritise the revenue-driving games, which will be the international matches and then the white-ball one-day games after that, whether that be the Blast of The Hundred or whatever - if indeed we get any cricket this summer.

"The two domestic competitions that are most vulnerable would be those that drive revenue least and they are the domestic 50-over competition and the County Championship, which may have to be curtailed."

England were due to begin their Test series in Sri Lanka on Thursday but following its postponement attention now falls on their future schedule, which is due to continue with a home Test series against West Indies in June.

West Indies Cricket Board have already offered to host the three Tests in the Caribbean - possibly in September - and Atherton says that with the international cricketing calendar so cramped, it is important for the game's decision-makers to be innovative and open-minded.

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Middlesex director of cricket Angus Fraser says it's almost inevitable the start of the county cricket season will be delayed because of Covid-19

"I guess all options are on the table and you have to be completely flexible," he said.

"I understand that the West Indies Cricket Board have been in conversations with the ECB about maybe taking that series abroad. At the moment coronavirus seems to be less widespread in the warmer countries, like in the Caribbean.

"But there are innovative ways of approaching this, if indeed we get some cricket here in the summer.

"One thing I thought of is that you could split your red-ball and white-ball England teams so you could play two international sides simultaneously.

"If you put the West Indies series back, for example, and played it at the same time that Australia are supposed to be here for some one-day cricket then you could have a situation where an England Test team and an England one-day team are almost playing simultaneously. That's just off the top of my head."

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