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Mike O’Farrell outlines his hopes for the return of county cricket

over 3 years ago | Interviews

It’s all starting to feel a little bit more real. West Indies have arrived in England, with the three-Test series in July confirmed to take place at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, both bio-secure venues. The international game seems set for revival. But what about county cricket?

The ECB has announced that no professional domestic cricket will be played before August, but confidence is building that the county game will restart this summer.

“I think I’m more confident than I’ve been at any stage since we’ve been through this,” says Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell. “Whether it’s going to be exactly August 1 when we kick off, I don’t know. But I feel that the ECB, working with the counties, have done as much as they possibly can.”

Plans are now being put into place for where Middlesex will play; the out-grounds of Merchant Taylors’ School and Radlett Cricket Club currently seem to be the favourable venues, with there remaining some uncertainty over how much access will be granted to Lord’s.

“We’re preparing on the assumption that there may be cricket at Lord’s, but we’re also preparing the out-grounds, so either way we’ll have the facilities to host games in an as safe and proper way as possible,” O’Farrell adds. “We’re not going to be taken by surprise.”

There also remains the possibility of supporters attending matches while maintaining social distancing measures.

“We’ve asked one of the senior management team to report back to the board on how those facilities can work, with bio-security, parking facilities and making sure we’ve got enough access for all,” says O’Farrell. “Luckily, Merchant Taylors and Radlett are secure grounds in terms of access, so we would anticipate we can get five hundred or more spectators in those grounds quite safely. If we are lucky enough to play at Lord’s there won’t be problems there with space.”

Furthermore, even with the current suspension of recreational cricket, O’Farrell remains hopeful that the game will return at all levels this summer.

“I’m quite determined that whenever somebody gives us the go, we’ll be out playing cricket in as many formats. Firsts, Seconds, Women, the Disability squad, the youngsters – in as many different ways as possible. Recreational cricket is still a little uncertain at this stage, but I suspect that will open up. We’re very determined to play at as many levels as we can.”

There seems to be some light emerging at the end of the tunnel, but as O’Farrell says himself: “Circumstances seem to change weekly, if not daily, with professional sport at the moment.”

The men’s first-team squad remain on furlough, and there remains the question of what a reformatted season will look like for them when they do return. The ECB has stated that its focus in the domestic sphere lies with the T20 Blast, while a regional pool structure could be put in place for the red-ball game.

“I’m quite sure there will be the T20 Blast in some form,” O’Farrell says. “There’s also debate on some form of regional competition. I don’t know which way that will go but what I’m concerned about is that at least four or five games of a serious nature are played between counties that have an edge to them. That they see them as proper games. I’m not talking about promotion and relegation – that’s second order. This is just my thought – that the winning points from these games are carried to next season. I don’t know if that’s possible or not and whether people want that. But something that says to the young players that it’s a very worthwhile game, there’s a chance to make a name for yourself, show you’re as good as you were and to set the county up and running for season 2021.”

To have even reached a stage where debate can rage over what a shortened season could look like seems like a mighty achievement. O’Farrell lays plenty of praise at the door of the ECB, highlighting the governing body’s renewed commitment to the county game.

“I am very encouraged by the way the ECB over the last year to 18 months have moved around to recognising the real significance of county cricket,” O’Farrell explains. “It’s often said they're only focused on The Hundred, but there has been a real recognition that without the grassroots of county cricket and the developmental processes of county cricket you won’t have the cricket stars to play in the competitions. Now there’s much more collaboration than I’ve seen for a long time.”

The importance of that collaboration cannot be overstated in these trying times. And while O’Farrell outlines reasons to be hopeful, the question has to be asked: what if there is no county cricket played this summer?

“Our anticipation has got to be that there will be. If there are no plans, financially, as a club and as a county, we’re OK. We’ve looked after things quite well. If, god forbid, there is no cricket, we’ll do all that we can to keep the squad as fit and sharp as possible for next season because cricket must continue.

“We want to make sure there is a pathway for young cricketers. We’ve got scholarships and bursaries in place for prospective young players that we want to continue. Some of those are funded from within. Some of those are funded by benefactors including the Seaxe Club and the Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants amongst others. We want to keep that process going. For us, if we don’t play cricket for whatever the reason, that won’t stop us from moving forward and doing what we need to do, which is to get it right for next year.”

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