Northants still 'optimistic' fans may get their cricket fix at the County Ground this summer
Northants chief executive Ray Payne says he is now 'more optimistic' that some supporters will be will be able to watch cricket at the County Ground this summer - but conceded 'nothing is certain'.
The sport is currently suspended until July 1 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic, but hopes are increasing that the season will be able to get started in some form later in the year.
The England & Wales Cricket Board are working on playing England Test matches in bio-secure environments at Old Trafford in Manchester and The Ageas Bowl in Southampton, and Payne believes there is still reason to be optimistic that county cricket will also get the green light at some stage.
There has been talk of the Vitality T20 Blast still being played behind closed doors, but Payne is keeping his fingers crossed that supporters may still be able to watch live cricket at Wantage Road in August or September, but in very restricted numbers.
The chief executive made it clear he doesn't have any definite date for a cricket start date, and wasn't able to say what will happen with any certainty, but he has been encouraged by what has been happening behind the scenes in recent weeks.
Speaking on Northants' first online forum that was broadcast on Thursday night, Payne was asked if the season is likely to get underway at any point, and said: "The biggest question I have been asked over the past few weeks is when and if we will play any cricket?
"I would love to be able to give a definitive answer, but I can't.
"What I will say is this will very much depend on player safety, we are guided by Government advice, and we are guided by ECB guidelines that have been drawn up by the medical team
"There are extensive 'back to training documents' that have been prepared, and risk assessments for the ground, all of which is just built around training for the moment.
"We don't have a date yet as to when there will be training, but we are very hopeful there will be some training, and if there is training that means we have cricket.
"It is a case of watch this space, seeing what happens in the country, and also seeing what happens in sport in general."
Payne was then asked if there is the chance of supporters being able to attend matches, and he said: "The only thing that is certain at the moment, is that nothing is certain.
"If you had asked me a few weeks, I probably would have said there is very little chance of crowds, but this week I am far more optimistic that towards the end of the season we could be having people in the ground, maybe late August or September.
"There has certainly been talk of it, and it is important for the club that we have support and that we have crowds for our cricket matches.
"So as a club we are very focused on what we need to do to make that happen.
"Safety will again be the overriding factor if members of the public are coming into the ground, and we will be probably looking at new ways we will need to operate, this 'new normal' that is talked about.
"We will have to find a new way, with some social distancing, to get crowds in.
"The club's view is that, if we can achieve it towards the latter end of the season, then we will."
Payne was then asked about what sort of crowd numbers the club could hope to allow in to watch games, and he said: "It could be about 1,000 people we could socially distance around the ground.
"We would probably need to introduce new entrance systems for members and season-ticket holders and possibly allocate some seats around the ground.
"There would maybe no access at this stage to indoor facilities, so these are all things we are waiting on Government guidelines, but also as a club we are starting to think about, and about how we can make the the environment safe.
"I think we will be guided by as to how many people we can have as a maximum inside the ground, and the configuration of where those people can watch the game.
"Although we might think that with the Blast competition we can fill the ground, I don't think we will be allowed to.
"The sort of County Championship crowd might be the maximum we could hold.
"And I also think that because there has been such a dearth of sport, if we are able to put something on in the town, we may be the only club that are able to do that this summer, or potentially even later in the year.
"I think there will be a great amount of interest in people wanting to come down and watch some cricket.
"It will be about maximum capacities in the ground, where we can safely get people into the ground, have them watch the game, and then leave safely as well."