ONE year ago, it was dawning.
The World Cup had just begun and English cricket’s most glorious summer was upon us.
The Summer of Stokes gave us two of the most gripping climaxes ever experienced in any sport.
Ben Stokes — reformed hellraiser, supreme all-rounder — seized centre stage for both.
There was the World Cup final at Lord’s, where England won a ridiculously dramatic contest against New Zealand on a Super Over.
Then there was the dreamland comeback to win the Ashes Test at Headingley thanks to an impossible final-wicket stand with Jack Leach.
Chuck in the brutal Lord’s duel between England’s new fast- bowling sensation Jofra Archer and Australian run machine Steve Smith and all around us was compelling evidence that cricket — at its best — is the most thrilling sport of all.
The hope was that English cricket could carry the feelgood momentum of 2019 into another packed summer of internationals, which would also bring the launch of The Hundred — a controversial, but potentially attractive short form of the game designed to capture a new audience.
As in all sports, and so many other areas of life, coronavirus has scuppered those best-laid plans. The Hundred has been scrapped until next year.
While Test series against West Indies and Pakistan have been delayed until July and must be played without the packed-out, beered-up crowds which make English cricket the envy of the world.
As for the county game — the breeding ground for Stokes, Archer, Joe Root and all — well that season has been decimated, with no plans to start until August.
Sixteen of 18 clubs have furloughed players and, as county cricket does not make money in itself, there is little urgency to get the game back on.
There would be logistical issues but these should not be insurmountable — give cricketers and supporters some cricket and save the Government some cash. Lord knows they need it.
Cricket is a socially-distanced sport, save for two slip fielders going for the same edge, players rarely get within two metres of one another.
And four-day County Championship matches are famously played in front of a few dozen men and a dog, so spectators could surely attend.
An exhibition match on Guernsey last weekend was the first game of cricket to be staged in the British Isles this summer.
But a match between 22 Channel Islanders you’ve never heard of still attracted 82,000 viewers on YouTube, an example of the nation’s thirst for its traditional summer sport.
The ECB are confident they can pack in the entire international season between July and September, behind closed doors, at grounds with hotels on site, such as Old Trafford and Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl.
That would mean they recoup, through Sky TV cash, around two-thirds of the £380million which would be lost if the summer was completely wiped out.
Yet while finances have to be a chief motivation for any industry in these unprecedented times, the ECB does not exist primarily to make money but to provide actual cricket.
The recreational game — including all youth cricket — remains on hold, meaning kids captivated by Stokes last summer have precious little chance to hone their skills before April 2021.
It is a huge lost opportunity largely, but not entirely, unavoidable now lockdown is easing and normality gradually returns.
The ECB have done a better job than most sports of publicising their players during lockdown.
Yet they are doing cricket no long-term favours by dragging their heels over a return for anything other than the international game. Tweet @davekidd_