Hampshire cricketers back off furlough - and set up base in West Sussex

Giles WhiteGiles White
Giles White
Hampshire’s players will finally come off furlough today to start preparations for the 2020 season, albeit in the unfamiliar surroundings of Arundel rather than the Ageas Bowl.

Hampshire have been unable to train since the beginning of April due to the coronavirus lockdown and furlough restrictions.

But with the ECB announcing that men’s domestic cricket can begin on August 1, preparations will now begin for the return to action.

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However, due to England making the county’s HQ their biosecure base ahead of their Test series with West Indies, Hampshire have been forced to find a new home in West Sussex.

Director of cricket Giles White explained: “We initially thought we would share the facility with the ECB but the way things have played out with the restrictions which have made the ground biosecure, safety comes first.

“We sorted out coming to Arundel within a matter of days and they’ve been fantastic – it has worked out really well.

“We’ll be there for the whole of July with the whole squad, who will be unfurloughed, ahead of games in August.

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“The surfaces are outstanding at Arundel [where County Championship, Vitality Blast and Kia Super League matches have regularly been hosted] and the environment lends itself to entertaining the group regularly over this period.

“Whereas if we went to a local club, I sense the surfaces would be something we’d have to look at and the fact that hopefully local clubs will be training and playing themselves before too long.”

There have been strict routines that England’s white-ball trio James Vince, Liam Dawson and Mason Crane have been adhering to since their early return last month.

A temperature test and questionnaire will be filled in before leaving the house, before another temperature gauge by is taken by physio James Clegg on arrival – with a ‘one skin, one ball’ policy to avoid cross-contamination between players.

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The squad will be equally split into four groups of six and will train independently of each other under one of coaches Adi Birrell, Alfonso Thomas, Tony Middleton and Jimmy Adams.

“There won’t be any cross over within the groups so if someone was to get the virus then we could lockdown that group and the rest could continue,” White said.

From that point, the sessions will return to familiarity. White added: “We would look at having a net. There is a natural social distance in cricket, especially in practice.

“The group will then do some fielding practice together, while being wary of the ball.”

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Vince, Dawson and Crane have shown that the measures are effective and easy to follow.

White said: “Those guys are pretty much used to it now, they know what they are doing, and it runs pretty smoothly.

“I wouldn’t anticipate it taking too long before the guys get to grips with it, hopefully within a week or so they’ll be used to it.

“I’m sure at the start we will have to point them in the right direction.

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“They will get a briefing from the physio on arrival and then it’s for the coaches, medical and support staffs to make sure that we adhere to the regulations and guidelines.

“It is human nature that once you do something for a period of time then it becomes a habit and you end up functioning in that way.

“It is something we will keep an eye on but from what I’ve seen over the last two weeks, I don’t see any problem with the guys coming back to training.”

There will be four absentees from training, with Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw, Brad Wheal and Fidel Edwards stuck in their homelands due to restrictions on international travel.

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“None of those have flights yet as there are issues with them coming over,” White said.

“We are currently working through that with the different individuals.

“They will now start to work through some back to bowling programmes.”

The make-up of the physical fixture list from August onwards is yet to be confirmed – with county chairmen due to meet next week to discuss the options.

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Hampshire are still discussing what they would like to see from the resumption, but safety will be at the forefront of their decision-making.

White said: “There will be a meeting on July 7 with the chairmen and they’ll be discussing whether the T20 competition is going to be in place alongside a Championship or a 50-over competition.

“Safety comes first. We have to look at it in the context of what’s going on around us.

“I think safety and staying in hotels might be an issue with the longer form of the game.

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“If there were no issues with safety or finances then we will be erring towards four-day cricket and T20 but I think we need to look at this in the context of what is going on around us and do the right thing by the player’s safety.”

But for now, there is a new season buzz around Hampshire.

“A few weeks ago, speaking to a group and it was doom and gloom; it didn’t look like we were going to get any cricket,” White revealed. “Now, things have moved and cricket is going to happen from August 1.

“There is an excitement about that. Firstly, seeing each other again, but also picking up a bat or a ball is something that these guys do pretty much every day of the year. It has been such a big gap they are raring to go.”