Surrey learning from Dolphins as it hopes for Oval matches in 2020

Next week should have seen the Oval in south London hosting the first Test between England and the West Indies.

The Oval

A general view of the Oval, home to Surrey County Cricket Club. The global outbreak of COVID-19 has seen the start of the 2020 English campaign delayed until July 1 at the earliest.   -  Getty Images

Surrey is “copying the homework” of American football’s Miami Dolphins as it draws up plans to stage county cricket at its Oval headquarters this season despite the coronavirus.

Next week should have seen the south London ground hosting the first Test between England and the West Indies.

But the COVID-19 outbreak has seen that series, and the start of the English season, delayed until July at the earliest.

Surrey has several England players on its books, including batsmen Rory Burns and Ollie Pope, sibling all-rounders Sam and Tom Curran and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes.

But it looks like The Oval will miss out on international cricket this season, with all those fixtures slated to be played at ‘bio-secure’ venues such as Lancashire’s Old Trafford and Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl that, unlike Surrey’s headquarters, have on-site hotels.

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This week, however, plans emerged that would see The Oval reopening with a capacity reduced from 25,000 to 6,000 to meet social distancing guidelines.

Surrey chief executive Richard Gould, asked Wednesday about the origins of the scheme, told a conference call: “To be honest, we were copying the homework of the Miami Dolphins.

“You see a lot of businesses doing this sort of war-gaming now.” 

Earlier this month, the Dolphins revealed details of a plan to play games before a reduced numbers of spectators and still meet social distancing guidelines, including timed entrances and exits per sections, cutting capacity at its stadium from 80,000 to 15,000, face masks for all spectators and food being ordered from and delivered to seats.

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Although no decisions have yet been announced by the England and Wales Cricket Board, there are fears this could be the first season since the Second World War without any county cricket at all.

Surrey is well-placed financially, at least initially,to survive such a campaign after declaring a pre-tax profit of 6.3million for the 2019/20 financial year, with Lancashire the only other county not to have to put its players on the British government’s ‘furlough’ job retention scheme.

And just as Miami owner Stephen Ross declared on Tuesday the NFL will definitely stage a season, Gould said: “We’re optimistic there will be a season. Not just an international season, but a county season.” 

England is planning to play matches this season behind closed doors as a health measure.

But Gould, while accepting Surrey’s finances “do give us a little bit of a cushion,” warned such a policy could not be a long-term measure for Surrey given 90 percent of its revenues is generated by people coming to its ground.

“We hope at some stage they will allow some crowds in,” he said.

“If it doesn’t happen, we’re in a unique position as we’ll be going over a year-and-a-half between when we last had people in the grounds and when we next do.

“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. There have to be baby steps at some stage to get back to some sort of normality.”

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