UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seemingly put paid to the hopes of recreational cricketers across the country that a return to action is imminent.
Responding to a question from Greg Clark MP in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said that it was too soon to lift current restrictions preventing the return of recreational cricket, describing the ball as "a natural vector of disease".
His comments will have no bearing on England's Test series against West Indies, which is due to start on July 8, or on the possible return of county cricket, both of which are governed by guidance for elite sport.
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Under current regulations, socially-distanced training sessions are the only permissible form of cricket. Some leagues have begun to cancel their formal calendars for this season already, though others had anticipated that a start date could come quickly, with the Prime Minister announcing that businesses in the hospitality and tourism sectors could begin to re-open from July 4.
Mr Clark, the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, asked the PM to clarify whether "the ban on cricket has come to an end".
"Cricket is perhaps our most socially-distanced team sport," he said. "We've lost half the summer but there is another half left to be enjoyed by players and spectators alike." On Saturday, he tweeted that it was "absurd that no cricket can be played this midsummer weekend".
Mr Johnson said: "The problem with cricket as everybody understands [is] that the ball is a natural vector of disease, potentially at any rate. We've been round it many times with our scientific friends.
"At the moment, we're still working on ways to make cricket more Covid-secure but we can't change the guidance yet."
The ECB, which has been working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, said it was "keen to see the imminent and safe return of our sport at recreational level".
"We believe that cricket is a non-contact sport, with very low risks of exposure, and that it can be played as safely as many other activities being currently permitted," the ECB said in a statement. "It is our strong desire to work with Government to see the return of recreational cricket on or around 4th July, as they continue to lift other restrictions more broadly across society.
"We are heartened that the Government has already permitted the return of other ball sports, including tennis and basketball, and we are sure that our interpretation of the risks around ball transmission is consistent with these other games.
"We can confirm that any guidance we share with the game will include directions on how to mitigate any risk from handling the ball as we continue to prioritise the health and safety of the cricket family in all our decision-making.''
According to its most recent roadmap for the return of recreational cricket, England was in 'Step 3' of a five-stage process. The next step would involve adapted matches which allowed cricket "to remain socially-distanced", before the final step of unrestricted play which would be adopted once social-distancing measures were removed.
Mr Johnson later attempted to clarify his comments at a government press conference. "I want to make one thing clear - I would love to play village cricket again. I want to stress that we are working on all of these things," he said.
"We are working with all the industries, all of the performing arts, the theatres, gyms, all the bits that we can't quite do at the moment… sports such as cricket, we're trying to make it work as fast as we possibly can. So don't think that this package represents the summit of our ambitions - it's as far as we can go for now."