Counties may be offered an opt-out of this season's first-class competition as part of plans to restart domestic cricket.
While the first-class counties voted by a narrow margin to play first-class and T20 cricket in the abbreviated 2020 season, it is understood one or two retain strong reservations about hotel stays. Hampshire, in particular, are understood to have doubts about the safety of such trips. They, along with several other sides, voted to start the season with a 50-over competition and not play first-class cricket in 2020.
What the vote means in essence is that the county season will begin at the start of August. It will, subject to withdrawals, feature three regional groups of six teams who will each contest five first-class games. The two top sides at the end of that qualifying period will contest a final played over five days at Lord's which is likely to start on September 29 and could finish as late as October 3.
Discussions over what to call the competition are ongoing, but the Bob Willis Trophy is a strong possibility. Willis, the former England captain, died in December. The counties are hopeful this game will be broadcast by Sky but will attempt to stream it if not.
The T20 Blast season will start on August 27 and end with Finals Day at Edgbaston on September 26. Clubs remain confident that some spectators will be allowed into grounds before the end of the season. There will be no domestic 50-over cricket this year.
Although the vote was far from unanimous - unconfirmed reports suggests it finished 11-7 - most clubs appear happy to go with the majority decision. Leicestershire, for example, expressed a preference to start the season with List A cricket but have confirmed they will happily take part in the first-class competition. It may be relevant that it was made clear to reluctant counties that if they opted out of first-class cricket this season, they may not be welcomed back in the future.
Hampshire are probably the most reluctant at this stage. It is understood that, during the meeting of county chairs to discuss options, their chairman Rod Bransgrove expressed strong discomfort over asking players to put themselves in positions where they could be at risk of illness or injury. It is also understood that, following the vote, he has formed a sub-committee of the Hampshire board that will advise on the safety implications of away travel. At this stage, the club have yet to confirm their intentions.
There is some irony in Hampshire's reluctance to stay in hotels. The England and West Indies squads as well as broadcasters from Sky and the BBC are all currently staying in hotels at the Ageas Bowl, their home ground. But the level of investment into creating something approaching bio-secure venues for international teams cannot be replicated at a domestic level and there have been concerns expressed that county players are not receiving the same level of protection as international players. All players will be obliged to opt in before they are considered for selection.
The majority of the counties, however, hope that as passions cool there will be an acceptance over the schedule. They remain hopeful that all 18 counties will participate. The ECB have put no deadline on counties confirming their involvement, but hope to sign the schedule off at board level later this week.
With the city of Leicester currently in lockdown, it may well be that the club's home games are played at Kibworth CC. Lancashire, meanwhile, are expected to play their home games at Liverpool, while Hampshire are currently training at Arundel and could be facing the prospect of playing every game away from home. Derbyshire, too, may lose their ground for several weeks as it is likely to be the venue for women's internationals.