It is a world away from the bitter cold and even snow that will on Thursday greet the start of a county cricket season which is pivotal to the financial future of the domestic game.
Yet Surrey’s ambitious hopes to stage Indian Premier League matches in England’s biggest cities, as soon as the post-Covid world permits, could be just as integral to the game’s recovery as anything involving our 18 counties.
As a season in which the ECB have gambled heavily on their Hundred competition begins with a new conference County Championship, thoughts at the Kia Oval have turned to a more glitzy rescue plan.
Surrey boss Richard Thompson is planning an imaginative way out of the post-pandemic crisis
Joe Root is set to line up for Yorkshire as the County Championship begins on Thursday
Richard Thompson, one of English cricket’s most forward-thinking administrators and a man never afraid to ruffle ECB feathers, is planning an imaginative route out of the game’s post-pandemic crisis.
Bringing IPL teams to England, the Surrey chairman believes, could be the ‘silver bullet’ the ECB are seeking to attract a new, young and diverse audience.
And the project, which is likely to be supported by the governing body, could kick off with an exhibition game between Surrey and a high-profile IPL team.
‘You could stage IPL matches the same way the NFL and Major League Baseball play legitimate games in London,’ the Surrey chairman told Sportsmail.
‘The IPL is being extended to 10 teams next year, so there will be extra rounds of games and a later finish in June. London would be an obvious base but I can see games happening in Birmingham and Manchester, too.
‘Rajasthan Royals actually base their training academy in Surrey and we know their owner Manoj Badale well. He runs the British Asian Trust and spends a lot of time at the Oval. Lots of clubs have relationships with the IPL and we’ve certainly got a decent one.’
A spin-off to the plan, Thompson believes, would see India’s top players being recruited to play in a Twenty20 Blast competition that Surrey are worried is going to be undermined by the ECB’s desperation to make the Hundred a success this summer.
‘I remember when we signed Virat Kohli in 2018,’ said Thompson. ‘Sadly, he was injured and didn’t come over but the interest created was extraordinary. Counties get to see these superstars so rarely that it’s about finding a way to also get them into the Blast or Championship.’
Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals base their training academy in Surrey
It is clear that while Surrey may have softened their original objections to the Hundred and will host the Oval Invincibles in July, they still have concerns about the impact on the county landscape, in particular the highly successful T20 Blast.
‘Our point always was, “Can the game cope with four formats?”’ said Thompson.
‘For starters, we’re losing 12 players to the Hundred which means Surrey will have a virtual academy side for the 50-over competition this season and that will be diminished in quality and value.
‘We all want the Hundred to succeed because the game is betting so much on it. You can’t spend this kind of money and not reach a new audience. But looking at the Blast schedule and the lack of television games this year, it’s very hard to see how it can compete.
‘We’ve got six home games in 12 days. In 2019 we had a million live spectators for the Blast for the first time, but we won’t get close to that now when you’re expecting people to go to games effectively every other day.
The County Championship begins on Thursday amid ambitious plans for the domestic game
‘This will be the first year when we see how the whole Blast versus the Hundred thing will work. It just shouldn’t be one at the expense of the other.’
But Thompson is optimistic about cricket’s post-Covid future, as long as crowds are allowed for the bulk of a summer that begins on Thursday behind closed doors.
‘I’d say we’ve weathered the storm but as much as there’s more blue sky, there are still a few clouds,’ he said.
‘There’s still uncertainty. The vaccination programme should give people the confidence to come to cricket and feel safe. As long as we’re able to have a full house for our India Test in five months’ time, as well as the Hundred and the Blast, which we should, then we’re on our way.’