Coronavirus: ECB provides £61m support package 'to keep the lights on'

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has announced a £61million support package to "keep the lights on" amid concerns the entire season will be lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

ECB chief executive officer Tom Harrison on Tuesday warned the governing body faces the biggest challenge in its history with the United Kingdom in lockdown.

Around £40m has been made available immediately as first-class counties and local cricket boards suffer from the financial impact of COVID-19, while around a further £21m will follow in interest-free loans for recreational clubs in a bid to ensure cricket can survive at all levels.

The start of the county season has already been delayed by six weeks until May 28, but there are fears that no play will be possible at all.

Alternatively, England's Test and limited-overs sides could play at the same time to cram in fixtures later in the season, while the inaugural edition of The Hundred may be postponed until next year or staged behind closed doors.

Harrison also confirmed that England players with central contracts will not be asked to take a pay cut or furloughed.

He said in a statement: "It is no exaggeration to say this is the biggest challenge the ECB has faced in its history.

"We are working around the clock to understand the impact on the game and we have taken these short-term steps to help counties and clubs get through the immediate impact."

Harrison added: "This is a real hammer blow to our plans. Our season is massively under threat now. It's an incredibly difficult time for the country and the game.

"Everyone will be impacted. Right now we are addressing the short term. There's more pain ahead if we lose a substantial portion of the season. We are building scenarios where we can take further steps as needed. We don't think this will be the end of it.

"We won't be playing until we know it is safe for players and eventually fans. We will then be prioritising the most valuable forms of the game: first international cricket, then the Blast and maybe The Hundred as and when we get there.

"This money - £40million in cash for immediate and then £20million in interest-free loans - is to give certainty in these extremely difficult times. It's to keep the lights on."