Floods, coronavirus, working from home… and a mid-season start?


Alan Richardson is ploughing through reams of notes and watching video footage in his front room.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Worcestershire assistant coach should have been on a plane to Abu Dhabi with the county’s squad of players fine-tuning preparations for the start of the new cricket season.

But he’s not. Instead, on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre, the former Little Stoke seamer and current Sentinel cricket columnist, is confined to barracks.

The coronavirus pandemic which has swept the world has left this summer’s cricket action up in the air.

The show must go on, though, and despite Worcestershire’s playing and coaching staff in the formative stages of a self-imposed isolation period, Richardson is finding alternative ways to work.

However, it’s work which may prove to be fruitless in the end with a decision yet to be taken as to whether there will be any cricket this summer.

“We’ve got 14 days working from home. Everyone on the playing side at Worcester is doing it and I don’t think the office staff will be too far behind,” said Richardson.

“The players have been given individual training programmes, whether they do them at home or in the local park.

“The majority of counties are doing it and it’s a case of staying away from each other and not being part of social gatherings.

“We’ve had boys with coughs and colds and when they have shown those symptoms we’ve told them to stay away.

“But it’s a really difficult situation. Unless people get really ill, no-one is being tested.

“We’ve got no-one with a fever. We had a team bonding session last Friday and a meeting with the players on Monday.

“That’s the last time we’ve seen them and will be for 14 days… at least.”

Worcestershire’s New Road ground is currently recovering from a spate of floods over the winter.

Worcestershire were due to head to the Emirates yesterday for their pre-season tour.

However, that was understandably scrapped in favour of staying in this country and now, ultimately, behind closed doors.

The Abu Dhabi trip was seen as the ideal chance to get some sun on the players’ backs as they continued to work towards their County Championship opener against Middlesex at Lord’s on April 12.

That four-day clash is highly unlikely to take place, ensuring it’s now a waiting game to see what move the ECB makes regarding the summer schedule.

“We’ve worked hard this winter, especially the amount of hours we’ve put in, at the indoor centre,” added Richardson.

“We feel in a really good place. We should have been going to Abu Dhabi, but cancelled that last week.

“The fact we’re not going on tour is disappointing, but we were applauded by the ECB for taking a firm stance. We only cancelled eight days ago and such is the pace the situation is changing, there’s not a chance you’d get a flight out there now.

“But with the work that we’ve put in, we won’t be playing catch up. It’s initially 14 days we’re staying at home, but by the end of that period, the Government advice could be a lockdown, so we could be six weeks or two months until we see the players again.”

The ECB are set to make an announcement on the way forward in the coming days.

There are fears cricket could be cancelled altogether, played behind closed doors or, at best, have a delayed start.

“My personal view is that the ECB will want to keep the T20 competition. And if travel restrictions are lifted they will want to play the 100,” explained the 44-year-old, who took 569 first-class wickets in his career.

“Those two competitions will take place, in my view. Then we will try to fit some County Championship stuff or 50-over games around that.

“I can envisage a mid-summer start and the 100 starting us off. Then some 50-over and finally four-dayers and may be extend the season in to October.

Worcestershire won the Twenty20 Blast competition in 2018.
Worcestershire won the Twenty20 Blast competition in 2018.

“I can’t imagine that if we do play Championship stuff we will have champions or relegation, but it will be a chance for people to watch some cricket, presuming, of course, it’s not behind closed doors.

“It’s a tricky situation, whether that’s county chief executives or the chairman of a local club.

“This is a very serious matter and we have to follow guidelines. Generally most people have an opinion, but none of us are experts.”

Richardson is also busying himself by watching ‘The Test’ on Amazon Prime, which provides 18 months’ worth of behind the scenes access to the Australia cricket team.

But while he continues with his own work, the players are desperately trying to keep their fitness levels in peak condition.

“By the end of the week we should have a start date and then we can work back from there,” he said. “We’ll hopefully find a date when it’s safe to meet up. We’re happy with the lads’ fitness. We pushed them this winter and they are as fit as they’ve been.

“The strength and conditioning teams have produced programmes, so although we’re expecting a slight  drop-off in fitness, we’re hoping it’s not too bad.

“We’ve done two training camps at Loughborough over the winter, so have put in some really good work.

“From my point of view, we’ve done a lot on culture and behaviour and we can continue that work digitally.

England's cricketers saw their tour of Sri Lanka abandoned because of the coronavirus pandemic.
England’s cricketers saw their tour of Sri Lanka abandoned because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been doing analysis and have lots of notes and footage to go through.

“Even if it’s not useful this summer it will be for the future. And I’m also watching ‘The Test’ and picking up some tips from that.”

The coronovirus pandemic has exacerbated Worcestershire’s situation.

Their New Road venue is notorious for flooding, but this winter has seen unprecedented levels for the club.

Their entire ground has been submerged in water to leave them planning to play their early home games at nearby Kidderminster.

“It feels like one of the most testing times we’ve had at Worcester. We’ve had six floods – 70 days out of 125 the square was completely underwater,” said Richardson.

“The last flood was the killer one for us – that was the worst. They say you can have a clean flood or a dirty flood, that was definitely a dirty flood and left the ground covered in silt and mud.

“The first flood was so soon after the groundstaff had reseeded, so their work had no affect. If the first flood had happened a couple of weeks later, we might have been ok.

“It’s certainly going to be an interesting ground when we get out there.

“Because of the history of floods, we always get a bit of help from the ECB with fixtures. We get to play away more than other counties early in the season. Our first home fixture is at Kidderminster (on April 25), but I don’t expect us to have to fulfil that. We’re then away for a couple of games.”

Former Staffordshire seamer Richardson says the help provided by Kidderminster has been invaluable.

Worcestershire have used the venue when New Road has been out of action in previous seasons.

“I think we would have been at Kidderminster until the end of May and then back at Worcester after that,” he added.

“The ground at Kidderminster is really good and is fantastic at drying out. We were hoping to hold some pre-season games there. That’s the ironic thing, we have one of the best drying grounds in the country on our doorstep and ours is under water.

“We were phoning counties and saying ‘can we host you in pre-season?’. They thought it was some kind of joke, but it was a case of saying ‘no, no, we’ve got Kidderminster’.”

For now, though, thoughts of getting outside to play cricket are on the back burner. It’s just a case of waiting and seeing.

“The ECB have to decide whether it’s going to be safe to play cricket. It’s going to be a struggle without games and Worcestershire will be no different to a lot of clubs in the fact it’s going to stretch us,” he said.

“I try not to get too wound up about the situation. It’s unprecedented for us and there’s other more important things to consider like the fact I won’t see my parents for a while.”

And with that, Richardson returns to his coaching notes… preparing himself for a season which might never be.





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