Could Pandemic Help England's Future?

Can you smell that fresh-cut grass? Can you hear the crack of the bat? Taste that ice-cold beer? Have you researched your stats around England collapses for when Roger engages you in deep conversation like you're long lost friends, instead of the two strangers you are who just happened to be seated together? Cricket is less than a month away, and I Can barely contain my excitement.

In preparation, I was flicking through the June edition of Wisden (as I've realised having a newborn means the days of reading magazines cover-to-cover are over, at least for now) and there was an interesting article on the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. What it means for so many players who are in the last years of their contracts and what it could mean for county cricket going forward.

In 2019, I counted 67 players who were classified as "overseas", add in the Kolpak players (15 in 2019), you're up to over 80 players. Due to the pandemic, cricket is set to lose over £100 million and this could rise to over £300 million depending on how much international cricket we get this summer. Counties, some of whom were always battling to stay afloat will now have to make some extremely difficult decisions. The highest expenditure for most counties is their wage bill, and it's not unreasonable to think that certain counties will really need to look at the player spending come 2021.

With Britain set to leave the EU, which would negate the Kolpak regulation, teams will need to decide if they keep their Kolpak players and reclassify them as overseas, or if they're going to let them go completely. Even with an increase from one to two overseas players, there are a lot of tough decisions to be made. All of this raises some key questions for the game in this country.

1) International signings tend to be significantly more expensive due to the calibre of player that is coming in. Will we start to see counties opt for cheaper domestic players instead of splashing out on the expensive stars, at least until their revenue streams have recalibrated and are back to pre-pandemic numbers.

2) If we do see less international talent is this going to help or hinder our national team? On one hand more youngsters will be given exposure to first-team cricket, they always say the best way to learn is to play. On the other hand, the level of competition will be diminished with the lack of international talent, so will that hurt their development?

3) Will teams start to cut down on their squad size? The easiest way to save money is to pay fewer people. Cricket isn't immune to what's happening around the world at the moment with unemployment numbers soaring, so could more youngsters fall through the cracks? Will late bloomers fail to bloom at all because they're no longer employed?

4) If teams elect to not sign star power, what will this do to their game revenue? Will people still show up to the blast in the same numbers? Will the county cricket attendances dwindle even further?

These are all questions I don't know the answer to. Part of me thinks more young English talent playing is always a good thing, part of me thinks the cream always rises to the top and you need to expose these players to international stars before they become part of the England set-up. There is no easy answers, but how the counties react to this pandemic is going to be interesting to watch over the next 12 months.


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