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County pilots for return of crowds cancelled by UK government

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UK cricket fans are back in stadiums! Kind of… (2:03)

Andrew Miller experiences a day at the Oval where Surrey Cricket Club are trialling a return of fans to UK sport. (2:03)

Plans for Surrey and Warwickshire to allow a limited number of fans to attend their opening Bob Willis Trophy fixtures have been shelved after the UK government cancelled a number of pilots around allowing crowds at sporting events due to rising coronavirus infection rates.

Successful trial events were held at both Kia Oval and Edgbaston last week, with both counties hoping to allow in up to 2500 members to watch the return of first-class cricket. However, in a press conference on Firday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that these would not now go ahead.

The news means that the return of fans at county games looks increasingly unlikely this summer. The government had provisionally set a date of October 1 for allowing the return of crowds, but many counties had been optimistic that this could be brought forward.

The ECB has been working closely with Public Health England and local health authorities in order to allow the resumption of domestic cricket, after a four-month delay. While games will continue behind closed doors, the possibility of allowing some fans in to watch the T20 Blast in September now seems remote.

In a statement, the ECB said: "We understand this is disappointing for supporters who have waited a long time to see their clubs in action and were looking forward to attending pilot events at the Kia Oval and Edgbaston this weekend.

"However, we understand the reasons the government has made this decision, and remain ready to work with them to ensure supporters can safely return to stadiums when government advice allows.

"We are pleased the Bob Willis Trophy will still begin this weekend behind closed doors, and fans will be able to watch their teams in action through the online streams being provided."

Richard Gould, the chief executive of Surrey, has previously warned that counties would need attendance levels to be "back to normal" by next summer, or it would risk changing the structure of the game "significantly".

"I know this will cause great disappointment for those that were due to come to the Kia Oval on Saturday and Sunday, and I apologise that we are unable to welcome you this weekend," Gould said. "Club staff and players are also very disappointed. We will continue to work hard and hope to see supporters back into our ground before the end of the summer."

With the bulk of the ECB's funding coming from its broadcasting deals, the governing body remains hopeful of a number of Blast games - including the quarter-finals and Finals Day - being televised on Sky. England's international fixtures, already being played behind closed doors in tightly controlled, bio-secure environments, will not be affected.