The Kia Oval and Edgbaston expect to be first in line to resume outdoor spectator trials as the Government deliberates this weekend over its new timetable to get crowds back at sport arenas.
Surrey and Warwickshire had already spent about £50,000 each on getting their grounds ready for the first weekend of testing in the week before Boris Johnson put "a brake" on lockdown easing two weeks ago. Crowds at Surrey v Kent for the next Bob Willis Trophy at the Oval on August 22 had previously been mooted as an option by county chief executive Richard Gould.
Neither the Oval nor Edgbaston has been contacted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport as of noon on Friday, but both clubs are assuming their venues will be chosen after the World Snooker Championship was allowed to resume its crowd testing on Saturday.
Up to 2,500 spectators, mainly members, had been due to the first two days of this weekend's Bob Willis Trophy games in south London and Birmingham two weeks ago. Edgbaston has ambitions to host to up to 8,000 spectators on T20 Finals Day in early October, Stuart Cain, the new Warwickshire chief executive, hinted earlier this week.
This year’s T20 Blast group matches will take place behind closed doors but Finals Day has been moved from its original date in September to October 3 in the hope that crowds may be allowed back by then. Due to social-distancing rules, most stadiums were expected to be around a third full this autumn.
On Saturday and Sunday, about 300 seats at the 1,000-capacity Crucible Theatre in Sheffield will be allowed to be filled for the remaining sessions, two weeks after trials were suspended hours into the opening day's action.
On Friday World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn played down fears of unrest from players over the return of spectators as he said Government inspectors had told him the Covid control measures in Sheffield were "exemplary". The competition had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds getting the Crucible ready for fans.
"We hope this is the start of crowds returning to all major sports and we're proud that we've been at the start of it," Hearn said. The return of spectator trials, beginning at the Crucible, raises hopes that fans can attend sporting venues at Premier League grounds and beyond from the start of October.
The DCMS confirmed that a full pilot programme will be announced within the next week after the PM sanctioned a return to the timetable of crowds returning.