England will consider handing international opportunities to fringe players and testing their fast-bowling depth to help them cope with a demanding revised summer schedule of behind-closed-doors cricket.
The ECB have made extensive contingency plans in the hope of salvaging a home international season when it becomes safe to do so, with the current ambition of starting a Test series against West Indies on July 8. It is likely that as many as 30 players will be called up to any England squad in order to allow for intra-squad practice games, and the possibility of playing white-ball and red-ball series concurrently remains on the table.
That means that England's depth will be put the test. Mo Bobat, the ECB's performance director, has been in regular discussions with Chris Silverwood, England's head coach, and Ed Smith, the national selector, over the past two months, and told ESPNcricinfo that there may be chances for players on the fringes of the national team to allow them to get through a "pretty brutal" fixture list.
"We've got quite a broad talent pool - some guys that have done really well in the winter on the Lions programme, and plenty of guys knocking on the door, so we may have the opportunity to provide quite a few guys with some international exposure as and when we get to it," Bobat said.
"I get quite excited by that. If it means we're going to provide international exposure to a new group of players, which we may have to, then I think that's great. It's probably common knowledge that we may have to explore things like playing concurrent squads, and that means our depth will get challenged, but I see that as an opportunity."
England's fast-bowling depth will come under particular strain. Seamers will return to individualised training sessions at county grounds within the next two weeks to allow them as much lead-in time as possible before the planned start of the West Indies series, but with back-to-back Tests likely and players starting from a low base, rotation will be an inevitable feature of the summer.
"For some of our fast bowlers, we know we want to get loads through their bodies and their bones need hardening again," Bobat said. "It's important to remember what we're preparing for: we're preparing for Test cricket, and a schedule that will involve back-to-back Tests. It's a pretty brutal schedule: it's not just preparing them to play one Test or a one-day game. It's incumbent on us to make sure we give the players the best chance of making sure their bodies are in the right place to deal with that tough schedule."
While England have used as many as eight frontline seamers in Test cricket in the last 12 months, there are complications. Both Mark Wood and Jofra Archer were undergoing rehabilitation programmes following injuries when the UK went into lockdown, while Stuart Broad and James Anderson have suggested that returning from the training they are currently doing to international cricket may be harder for them given their age.
That means opportunities for the three seamers handed pace-bowling development contracts by the ECB in January - Olly Stone, Saqib Mahmood and Craig Overton - may be forthcoming, while Ollie Robinson and Brydon Carse, who impressed on the Lions' tour of Australia, will come into the conversation.
The week before the UK went into lockdown, Bobat and Raphael Brandon, the ECB's head of science and medicine, held meetings with the three seamers' counties to discuss the outlines of programmes for the season ahead, and while those plans have been thrown off, all three will be considered for squads this year.
"We know that we want variety in our pace attack, and across that variety we then want depth. It's as simple as that," Bobat said. "You can look at those three guys and know that they might have the capability to perform slightly different roles, and they represent depth beneath the guys who are currently in the England team.
"The biggest attraction is simply that we think they are three high-quality bowlers. They're at different stages: Craig has had experience of actually bowling some volume, [so] his needs are going to be different to Olly who's returning from a couple of injury setbacks. We're trying to make sure that they get the right amount of cricket to develop skills - as well as their bodies - moving forward.
"I don't think anyone is going to turn down a battery of 90mph fast bowlers, but that one attribute hasn't been the key driver. If you add those three guys to the many fast bowlers we used this winter, it strengthens our depth. We want to get to our competitive series, like the [2021-22] Ashes as an example, with as many options to pick from as possible."
The ECB had been due to appoint a bowling coach in the early months of this season, but the recruitment process has been paused on account of the pandemic. Instead, England will continue to use short-term consultant coaches, with Richard Dawson, Jon Lewis and Jeetan Patel among those likely to be involved. Patel, Shane Bond and Darren Gough were among those used last winter, with players giving positive feedback about their experience working with them.
"We deliberately didn't rush into [appointments] over the winter in a number of coaching roles that I'd have been looking to fill," Bobat said. "In the short term, we might use consultants. We've got an array of high-quality coaches within the game, and particularly if we're losing cricket and guys are itching to get involved, it would be good to be able to lean on our county workforce if we need to."