Joe Root, England’s Test captain, has admitted that he is prepared for the possibility that there is no cricket played at all during the 2020 summer, with the UK currently under lockdown as it battles the coronavirus outbreak. Root also said that he expects conversations to take place “in the coming weeks” about the possibility of players taking pay cuts in order to safeguard the game’s financial future.
England returned early from their tour of Sri Lanka earlier this month, as the pandemic began to take hold around the world, and the ECB has already said there will be no domestic cricket played before May 28. While the governing body is looking into the viability of holding games behind closed doors, Root conceded that scheduled home series against West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and Ireland may not go ahead.
“It has definitely crossed my mind, it is a possibility,” he said. “But I think we have to try to stay optimistic, try to take things day by day, not get too ahead of ourselves, we’ve just got to be ready for whenever that opportunity to play again is.
“We’ve got to stay fit, obviously can’t do much in terms of actual practice, hitting balls and bowling and stuff like that. Might be that my wife has to start giving me some throwdowns in the back garden but until things become that drastic it will be simply sit tight and wait. If that happens, then we’ll just have to adapt, make the most of those circumstances as a cricket community by coming together and doing the best for the game.”
The ECB is expected to announce measures aimed at propping up the professional game in England and Wales, with several counties contemplating “furloughing” their playing staff – effectively placing them on leave, with some of the costs met by the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme. It was also reported at the weekend that centrally contracted England players could be asked to give up around 20% of their earnings, although Root said such matters would be in the hands of the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA).
“I’m sure at some point in the coming weeks there will be a discussion,” he said. “That’ll probably take place between the PCA and the ECB, and until those happen, that’s not my area of expertise. I think we just have to concentrate on making sure we are as fit and as ready to go as we can be for whenever it is we get back to playing cricket.”
While there are graver issues at stake over the coming weeks and months, cricket’s current shutdown could have several knock-on effects beyond the purely financial – from impacting on the 2020 T20 World Cup to delaying the World Test Championship, with the final currently scheduled to take place in England next year.
Root, who said that over the last two weeks he had “been in touch with every single player” on England’s winter tours, was understandably frustrated at the interruption after overseeing an encouraging 3-1 Test series win in South Africa. But he suggested the enforced break would see an increased appetite for the game among players and spectators when cricket does resume.
“It is frustrating. There are more important things to concern ourselves with but, from a cricketing point of view, we were preparing ourselves well for the two Test matches in Sri Lanka and we made big strides in South Africa. Of course very different conditions but you saw how the warm-up games panned out and how the younger guys adapted with the bat and readied themselves for those Tests – it felt like we were in a very strong position to do something again.
“It would have been nice to get those games in to test ourselves out there against a side on the rise, to see if we could keep building our away form and build on the three brilliant Tests we had last time [in 2018-19]. Going into the summer, the six Test matches [against West Indies and Pakistan] will be crucial points, as the home games seem to be really important in the Test championship. It might be that changes now. When it comes to those games they might have to be rescheduled, play them abroad. I am sure there are a number of different scenarios we may have to find ourselves looking at down the line. Of course it would have been nice to play those two games [in Sri Lanka].
“When you get time like this away from the game when it is unscheduled, guys will be even more determined to come back and play. When that opportunity comes, all the guys will be desperate to start playing again and all of the pent-up energy that will be there from spending time at home will be expended on the field and into performances. Whenever we get back to playing again there will be some very excited players playing it and people watching it.”
Like the rest of the country, Root and his family are observing guidelines to stay at home – he conducted his media duties via video conference call – with cricket activity currently limited to giving his three-year-old son, Alfie, throwdowns.
“I’ve got an exercise bike at home and have generally been using that for my aerobic stuff. I’ve tried to stay isolated as much as possible, trying to get Alf running around the garden or doing something outside with the kits the ECB have kindly sent us. I’m taking this very seriously, trying to stay indoors as much as possible, avoid contact at all costs. It’s pretty impossible to get online shops at the minute. We’ve had one booked for three or four weeks. We’re literally trying to get out as little as possible, be efficient with what we’re buying and use, try to be creative with our cooking, finding different ways of using what we’ve got in the fridge, not wasting anything.”
Having announced at the weekend that he has become a patron of Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Root has also written an open letter to cricket supporters, jointly with England women’s captain, Heather Knight, calling on people to “stay strong and united” and praising those on the frontline in the coronavirus fight.
“It is motivating seeing how powerful it is when people come together and show support for a fantastic organisation like the NHS. We are very lucky to have it. We should appreciate it and not take it for granted. The work they are doing right now is amazing and they deserve all the support and care they are getting. Hopefully that continues long after this pandemic finishes as well.”