Alec Stewart has urged the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to grant first-class status to the Covid-shortened season’s four-day county competition.
County cricket will return in August in the Bob Willis Trophy.
“I’m very hopeful it will be agreed, but if first-class status is not given to the four-day games then they would become glorified practice matches,” said Stewart, Surrey’s director of cricket.
“It would be a mistake if we don’t ensure the games are first-class, because there has to be a real consequence to the players’ performances. What we need is for the players to be competing in matches where both team and individual performances count in the record books, to ensure the highest of standards are maintained throughout the contest.”
Stewart is happy with the mix of red-ball and white-ball cricket announced – after, it must be said, some debate – by the 18 counties.
“There was a lot of talk around should we just play white-ball cricket, but, at Surrey, we’re about first-class cricket,” said the former England captain.
It looks almost certain that three regional groups of six counties will each play five four-day games, leading to a five-day final between the two teams with the most points at Lord’s at the end of September.
There will also be an initial regionally-based Vitality Blast T20 10-group fixtures, followed by quarter-finals and a finals day.
But the ECB’s statement underlined that the safety of players will be paramount: “All of the first-class counties will undergo further medical risk assessments and venue compliance approval as planning progresses to ensure safe environments for the start of the men’s domestic season.”
Stewart admitted a lot of cricket is likely to be packed into two months.
He said: “It will be an intense schedule, and there will inevitably be some injuries for us all to contend with.
“In many ways, the easy thing this summer would have been not playing at all. But that, frankly, would have been criminal.
“Yes, it’s a shortened season. Yes, it will be a tough fixture list and, yes, we might see more soft-tissue injuries or perhaps other injury issues for some younger players.
“Some counties – like us -will be missing a number of players who are involved in England’s extended Test and one-day squads. We could be without up to seven England squad players, while we also are yet to see if both Morne Morkel and Hashim Amla [Surrey’s Kolpak players] can get into the UK.
“But, overall, I believe we have to look at everything in a positive fashion. Those of us in management have to manage and maybe rotate our players, and I know that the medical side of things – and the general safety protocols put in place – will be outstanding. There is enough ‘win-win’ to this situation.
“We also hope that members and supporters will be allowed through the gates in the coming weeks if not months. The cricket will be streamed (online), but, hopefully, by September, we’ll have people walking through the gates to actually watch some cricket.”
Surrey’s playing staff have completed a fourth week of training at the Kia Oval. Initially, batsmen and bowlers concentrated on individual drills, coupled with fielding practice and general fitness and strength and conditioning work.
Some batsmen v bowler nets have now begun and Stewart intends to put his squad through their white-ball paces before resuming more red-ball preparation ahead of the county’s two-day friendly against Middlesex at the Kia Oval on July 26-27.
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