Gloucestershire have cancelled this summer’s Cheltenham Festival due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning that this will be the first year in peacetime since 1871 that they have not played a game at the College Ground.
All professional cricket in England and Wales is currently suspended until July 1 at the earliest, but it seems increasingly unlikely that counties will return to play before August.
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The festival was scheduled to begin on June 29 and comprise two County Championship games and two T20 Blast fixtures, but given the temporary staging costs and logistical challenges involved, Gloucestershire have decided that any home games that are possible will be played at Bristol instead.
“As we approach July, the club’s preparations for the Cheltenham Cricket Festival would need to ramp up in order to deliver this annual showpiece event at the College Grounds,” chief executive Will Brown and chairman John Hollingdale said in a joint statement.
“As the highlight of the cricketing summer for many and with cricket being played [by Gloucestershire] in Cheltenham since 1872, it is naturally a huge disappointment to us all that we have had to take this decision.
“As the festival requires detailed planning and logistics and with so much uncertainty around a return to playing professional sport, we’ve had to make the call to reduce the club’s financial liabilities in erecting this temporary facility. We do sincerely hope that we will have cricket to play in Bristol this season.”
Gloucestershire had previously announced that according to internal financial projections, even in the event of no county cricket at all being played this summer, the club “should be able to break even this year and be ready to face the future in a strong financial position when this crisis has passed”.
Cheltenham first hosted a Gloucestershire fixture in 1872, with many of the earliest games played there dominated by WG Grace – his highlights there included an unbeaten 318 against Yorkshire in 1876 and a match haul of 17 for 89 against Nottinghamshire the following summer. The ground is generally consider to be one of the prettiest in English cricket, with the college’s buildings and chapel framing the backdrop.