Furloughed county cricketers have been left frustrated by the specifics of the UK government’s job retention scheme, having been advised by their counties that they should not use net facilities at local clubs despite the fact recreational players are now allowed to.
All but two of the 18 first-class counties – Lancashire and Surrey are the exceptions – have made use of the job retention scheme to furlough their players, whereby the government pays an employee’s wages when an employer’s business has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ECB issued guidelines two weeks ago permitting recreational cricketers to return to the nets providing they follow a series of health protocols including maintaining social distancing, but counties have warned their professionals that they should not follow suit while they remain furloughed.
Under the terms of the scheme, employees are not allowed to do “any works that [either] makes money for your organisation… or provides services for your organisation,” but are permitted to “take part in training”. But it is understood that because the term “training” is considered to take on a different meaning within elite sport when compared with an office setting, counties have their hands tied.
Gloucestershire players Ryan Higgins and Ian Cockbain both expressed their confusion about the situation via Twitter on Friday. “Why can’t we train only for the love of the sport? Baffles me,” Higgins said, while Cockbain suggested that players training should not be considered to be different from employees in other sectors furthering their skills through studying or taking exams.
Higgins told ESPNcricinfo that he had asked the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) for clarification but had been left with the impression that the issue was a “grey area”. A PCA spokesperson said: “We totally understand the frustration this is causing players and we are speaking to the ECB around some clearer directives”.
The Daily Mail reported this week that rugby union clubs had been told by HMRC on Thursday that they would be able to bring players back into a formalised training setting while they remained on the furlough scheme, but ESPNcricinfo understands that the ECB has not received any such guidance.
As things stand, counties are planning to take their players off furlough around four weeks before the start of whatever season is possible, with the start date currently pencilled in as August 1, and the ability to bring players back into training without taking them off the scheme would provide a significant financial boost to the county game.
The frustration for county players will be felt particularly keenly after England named a 55-man training squad on Friday, which will see those involved taken off furlough before they resume.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Our guidance is clear that furloughed employees can engage in training. But they must not do anything to provide services to, or make money for, their employer or a company linked or associated to their employer.”