In normal circumstances, Harry Gurney would have spent Monday morning finishing his packing and saying goodbyes to his family ahead of his flight to the IPL, but normal left the building some time ago.
Instead, he found himself re-opening one of his pubs – co-owned with Stuart Broad since 2016 – under its new guise as a takeaway and a village shop in an attempt to keep some kind of revenue stream allowing him to pay his 20 full-time staff.
“We started this back on Monday, when the prime minister said to avoid pubs,” Gurney explained, “and then when he updated that advice to pubs having to close on Friday, we were three or four days ahead of the curve.
“The idea – the reason we started doing it – was job preservation, because we knew that the trade of the pubs was going to pretty much vanish overnight, and we’ve got people who rely on us to pay their mortgages. We wanted to find a way to generate income in order that we were able to continue paying people throughout the crisis.
“I tried to nip it in the bud. I called a meeting last Monday morning of all the key management and just said to them: listen, I’m expecting that we’re going to get closed down in the next week or two, so let’s be prepared for it. We’ll do everything we can not to make any redundancies.”
Uncertainty remains as to whether it will be possible to run the service throughout – Gurney is yet to ascertain exactly what governmental assistance the company will qualify for following the chancellor’s announcement of support for businesses on Friday. But he remains hopeful that one way or another, the business will survive the storm.
“It’s just a chapter in the life of the business”
“The banks have been really understanding, one of the pubs that we own, we’ve got a mortgage on it and that’s just gone to interest-only for six months. Then the other one is a tenancy, and the landlord emailed to say we won’t charge rent for the foreseeable future.
“Business rates have disappeared again. We’ll be able to ride it out, but it’s frustrating and difficult. It’s just a chapter in the life of the business, but hopefully we can reap the rewards afterwards if we get through it.”
For Gurney, the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic has prompted one of the busiest periods in the business’ history from a management perspective, with opening nights the only contenders. Along with Broad and the third partner in their business, Dan Cramp, he runs two pubs in the Midlands, and as things stands intends to keep both open throughout the crisis.
Pizzas, fish and chips and curries are among the options on the new takeaway menu, with drinks also available for delivery, and Broad has been enlisted to help on the delivery run.
“I’m a lot more hands on than Broady, but he’s great when he’s around – it’s not common that we’re around at the same time” Gurney said. “He visits the pub, he does stuff on social media, and he’s talking about helping us do some takeaway and grocery deliveries next week.”
As for life stuck at home? Things could be worse. Aside from finding a way to keep his two-year-old son entertained, Gurney intends to “play a bit of piano, drink red wine, do some reading” as well as running to keep fit.
The working assumption remains that the IPL season will take place, though exactly when remains unclear, and the English season remains scheduled to start at the end of May with the T20 Blast. Gurney typically gives himself a four-week period to get up to speed ahead of a franchise tournament, so the lack of clarity is something of a frustration.
So on Monday afternoon, rather than boarding his flight to Kolkata as initially planned, he allowed himself a snap purchase with weeks sat at home in mind.
“I’ve just bought a PlayStation. I bought it about an hour ago. It’s the first time I’ve had one since I was, I reckon, 21 or 22.” At a time like this, who can blame him?
Most county clubs built to last through Covid-19 crisis, Surrey chief says
The much-derided ownership model of most county cricket clubs has given them the best chance of surviving the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Surrey’s chief executive.
With some now advocating English cricket adopts a similar finance model to that seen in the IPL, Richard Gould believes that it is the continuing predominance of members’ clubs – where no shareholder claims dividends and all profits are invested back into the club – which has afforded them a chance to “weather the storm” of recent months.
And he believes many IPL clubs are “striving” to create such a healthy structure.
Gould made his comments while unveiling record financial returns for Surrey. Against a turnover of more than £45m, Surrey declared a pre-tax profit of £6.3m. The profit is a 112% increase on the £2.75m made in 2018 and a 42% boost in year on year turnover. The club also has 13,500 members and a squad containing 13 England internationals, eight of whom developed through the club’s academy. The news comes days after Lancashire declared almost as impressive returns.
While both clubs are benefiting from a 2019 season which included hosting an Ashes Test and numerous World Cup games, they are now heading into a season in which incomes are going to be hit severely. But Gould believes that Surrey’s survival through 175 years underlines the benefits of its ownership model.
“I find it interesting to look at the ownership models of other sports,” Gould said. “With county cricket largely featuring members’ clubs, you know that in years when money is made, it’s not being taken out of the sport by shareholders or used to re-finance the purchase of the club, which seems to be the American way of doing things.
“When cricket makes money, you know it goes right back into the sport. We build bigger capacities to get bigger revenues or we invest in developing players. So the money we’ve been making at Surrey has gone into cricket – men’s and women’s cricket – and we take a lot of pride in young Surrey players going on to play for England.
“I’ve worked in football and I’ve seen the different models of team ownership. The issue for me is team versus club. Pop-up teams are all well and good, but clubs do so much more for their community and their environment.
“Teams in the IPL are actually striving to get what we have now. Look at Rajasthan Royals trying to create its own academy set-up. We take it for granted we’ve got an academy we invest in heavily. That’s what you get with clubs.
“There is a role for teams, even pop-up teams, but when it comes to it, celebrating our 175th anniversary this year, the long-term value both for the sport and the community rests with clubs.
“Although the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will clearly be damaging to the club, the successes of last year have enabled us to approach the situation with confidence and resiliency. Our finances do give us a little bit of a cushion which should help us weather the storm.”
Gould also cautioned against simplistic valuations of the game. Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, recently used his Telegraph column to claim that County Championship cricket ran at a financial loss but, as Gould sees it, those games help create the Test team which contributes heavily to the broadcast deals.
“People say the championship loses money but I don’t think it does,” Gould said. “Most of the value from the Sky broadcast deal is from Test matches which is fed by the county system delivering quality players. I can do you a P & L on a Championship match day and say it loses money but it doesn’t if you look at all of the money coming into the game.”
Despite Gould’s long-term optimism, he has warned that county cricket has a “specific issue” which makes it even more important that play resumes this summer. For if there is no county cricket this summer, clubs would go into the 2021 season having not welcomed spectators for 18-months.
“Cricket has a specific issue,” he said. “We’ve been talking about whether we can get crowds in towards the end of this year. We’re not going to be suggesting anything other than following very strictly the government guidelines. But we hope at some stage they will allow some crowds in.
“If that doesn’t happen, we’re in a unique position. There’s no other sport, industry or leisure sector that has the risk of going a year-and-a-half without anybody in the ground.
“Around 10 percent of our revenue comes from the Sky broadcast deal, 90 percent comes from people coming into the ground. It makes sense we’re protecting the Sky contract first. But our greater risk is going a very long time without people coming into the ground. There have to be baby steps at some stage to get back to some sort of normality.”
Gould also suggested there would have to be a review into the spending involved in launching The Hundred. In particular, he cautioned against excessive spending in case it resulted in cuts to county staffs. Some 134 male county players are out of contract in October.
“We’ve been told there are no sacred cows and all elements of the game are going to be evaluated in terms of costs,” he said. “Can we afford it? I don’t know what we can afford next year. Whether it’s The Hundred, county cricket or international cricket. I know the ECB are doing a lot of work on the finances to understand the options.
“There are nearly 150 players out of contract at the end of the season. We have to make sure that there is enough money to keep every player in the game who is worthy of another year. We need to make sure money is used appropriately.
“It would seem incorrect for clubs to have such money difficulties that they have to let more players go than they otherwise would when we’re creating another tournament where even more money is going in. But I’m sure that balancing act will be done over the next three or four months.”
Paul Stirling: Ireland itching to play England ODIs despite risks
Paul Stirling, the Ireland batsman, has said that he is “itching” to get back to playing cricket and is hopeful that his team’s ODI series in England will be able to go ahead behind closed doors.
Ireland’s three-match series in England was initially scheduled for September, but now looks set to be played in a short window from the end of July, with players and support staff from both sides staying in the on-site hotel at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl and with strict health protocols in place.
And Stirling, Ireland’s all-time leading run-scorer in full internationals, is hoping to get a start date as soon as possible in order to give him something to aim towards after more than 10 weeks locked down in Belfast.
“I’d love it to go ahead,” Stirling told ESPNcricinfo. “I think there’s obviously still going to be risks involved no matter what, but it’s [about] limiting those risks.
“Having a set date for a return to matches is helpful to the lads over here. If that’s, say, the end of July, it gives us something to look forward to and train towards, whereas at the minute you’re getting cancellations all the time… so there’s nothing on the horizon.
“You’re getting up each morning with nothing much to train for apart from your own personal satisfaction. It would be nice to get something actually pencilled in there. If there was a date where we had three games lined up against England, it would ease a lot of that mental pressure.”
The two boards have been involved in virtual meetings over the last few weeks to discuss the details of the series. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with the ECB over possible options, as well as discussing the potential to travel to England with governments and sporting bodies in the Republic and Northern Ireland,” Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland’s CEO, said in a statement to ESPNcricinfo.
“Certainly nothing has been agreed to date, but we will remain as flexible as we can in order to accommodate these three important World Cup qualification fixtures.”
And Stirling said that while he expects players to have an opt-out, he is hopeful that it will be possible to get onto the pitch “without having to worry” about the public health situation.
“As long as the safety precautions are there, I can’t see why [the series wouldn’t happen],” he said. “Hopefully by the time the two boards get together and make a decision, everything will have been taken into account.
“Everyone is in a different scenario. I think it’s going to be an individual choice: I’d love to get back out there, but I think you can understand anyone else’s point of view if they’re a bit more sceptical. I think it’s just that clarity from Cricket Ireland for us.”
England are expected to name a red-ball training squad later this week, and are set to name an entirely separate group for one-day cricket meaning that some first-choice players could be missing if the Ireland series does go ahead.
But Stirling is not necessarily targeting the series as a chance for an upset, suggesting that results may take a back seat in the first few games after the resumption. Ireland’s entire home summer has already been wiped out, so the chance to get any cricket at all played is the most pressing issue for him.
“Whatever team they put out, we know it’ll be a strong one,” he said. “They’ve probably got as good a second XI [as anyone], and some serious young talent coming through that haven’t even been capped because of the World Cup cycle.
“I think cricket might be slightly secondary from that point of view – once we get out there, it’ll be almost trying to put on a show. We’re just trying to build up and get back out there. They’re going to be the first few games of the next World Cup qualification process too [via the ODI Super League] so I suppose that will add a little bit more onto it.”
Later in the summer, Stirling could be one of the only overseas players to appear in the T20 Blast if the tournament goes ahead, having signed a contract with Northamptonshire earlier in the year. The club cancelled Kieron Pollard and Faheem Ashraf’s deals last week, but are hopeful that with no need to self-isolate upon arrival in England under government guidelines, Stirling might still make it over.
Following Ireland’s elevation to Test status and a short grace period, Stirling found himself in an unusual position at the end of last season, choosing between declaring as a local player for Middlesex and giving up international cricket, or continuing to represent Ireland but having to play with overseas status in county cricket.
He opted for the latter, and moved back to Belfast permanently after many years in London just before the Covid-19 lockdown began. He has spent the period doing his best to keep fit, reading, and watching “every Louis Theroux documentary there is”, but is hoping to get the green light to return to individual training soon after feeling “a bit jealous” of England’s bowlers who resumed last week.
“It was certainly one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make,” he said. “I loved my time in London, and there were some great people involved at Middlesex so it’s always difficult leaving that. Deep down, you don’t think it’ll ever be your choice, so that made it a little bit tougher.
“But it feels like a new challenge. I know the lads well at Northants, so I think it would be a pretty smooth transition into their changing room. Until the Blast is officially cancelled, I think there’s a chance for that [move] to go ahead: just being so close and still in the UK is helpful.”
County Championship could include Lord’s final with hopes for August start
A five-day Lord’s final could be the centrepiece of an abbreviated 2020 county season which should also feature T20 Finals Day.
Subject to government clearance and an ongoing improvement in the Covid-19 situation, ESPNcricinfo understands the ECB hope to start the domestic season in early August.
The Championship is set to be split into three regional groups – North, South and West – with all teams set to play a minimum of five games. The top two teams at the end of the regional stage will play a final, probably over five days, at Lord’s. It remains unclear if the winners will be viewed as County Champions in the traditional sense, but the results of the 2020 season will have no bearing on divisions next year.
That means the three promoted teams (Gloucestershire, Lancashire and Northamptonshire) will start the 2021 campaign in Division One, relegated Nottinghamshire will remain in Division Two, and Somerset’s 12-point pitch penalty is likely to roll over to next season.
The Vitality T20 Blast season is also set to be played – including Finals Day at Edgbaston – but the Royal London One-Day Cup looks almost certain to be abandoned.
If the domestic season is unable to begin until September, plans for a Championship season will be dropped and all efforts will instead focus on The Blast. In the best-case scenario, each county will play four first-class games in August before breaking for the Blast season.
While counties remain keen to play in front of crowds, there is an acceptance that there can be no guarantees in that regard at present. If necessary, however, they appear determined to go ahead behind closed doors or with social distancing built into their plans. This could mean grounds such as Edgbaston and The Kia Oval, with capacities over 20,000, would only be able to accommodate around 6,000 spectators.
The counties are anxious to see a return to cricket, however, fearing the consequences if they are unable to play from September 2019 to April 2021. Not least among their concerns is the prospect of needing to refund membership subscriptions. Several clubs would look to broadcast their games over their websites, Facebook, or YouTube.
If the season were to start in August, county players would need to be taken off furlough at the start of July at the latest. Only two counties, Lancashire and Surrey, have not used the government’s job retention scheme for players.
There are various complications. Several grounds – notably Edgbaston, Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl – are being used as bio-secure venues for touring teams (England at Southampton, West Indies in Manchester and Pakistan in Birmingham) while there may also be a need to play into October.
But the Professional Game Group, who are discussing the plans on Thursday, believe that with a bit of flexibility, solutions can be found and hope the five-day final will mitigate against the increasingly possibility of bad light
County Championship groups:
West: Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Worcestershire
South: Essex, Kent, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Surrey, Sussex
North: Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire
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