Michael Atherton believes “cricket has been a saviour” as a truly unique English summer drew to a close at Vitality Blast Finals Day.

The coronavirus pandemic threatened to prevent the cricket season taking place at all but remarkably ended with six Test matches, six one-day internationals and 11 T20 internationals having taken place, in addition to the Bob Willis Trophy, Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the Blast.

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Across men’s and women’s internationals, England faced Australia, Ireland, Pakistan and West Indies – twice – as the bio-secure bubbles devised by the ECB ensured that while a host of international sporting events were cancelled, top-end cricket was able to continue.

“It’s not been one that I want to repeat, for sure. Let’s hope that by next year we get a vaccine and crowds in,” Atherton said of the summer.

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“But given the problems, given the limitations, it has been an amazing summer of cricket in so many ways and there are so many people to be grateful for, for putting the cricket on: the ECB who have managed to put bio-secure venues on, the players from five international sides who’ve given up basic freedoms and had to spend time in a bio-secure bubble, players who have given us competitive and close games to enjoy.

“In many ways while there has been a lack of international sport, things like the Olympics being cancelled, the Commonwealth Games being cancelled, European Championships being cancelled; cricket has been a saviour this summer.

“So lots of people to thank, lots to be thankful for but let’s hope we get some crowds back next summer.”

Mark Butcher agreed and has been impressed not only that it was possible for so much cricket to get played but that the players were able to motivate themselves to maintain such high standards without the usual boost of a crowd.

“It’s quite extraordinary,” he said. “Congratulations to Essex for winning the Bob Willis Trophy, wonderful to have a trophy and a fitting final in the name of our dearly departed colleague.

“It’s been extraordinary and I think the quality of the play is the thing that has staggered me the most because I thought once you were a month in to playing in venues with no crowds in, the novelty of that would wear off and then that edge would be lost by the players.

“You might struggle to motivate yourself and come out and reach the heights that we’ve seen from a lot of the players but that hasn’t been the case. They managed, somehow, to keep performing in front of nobody and put on a great show for us all.

“I really hope that this summer has brought in more capital fans to the game – it’s been the only show in town a lot of the time and people have seen what a fabulous game it is and what a fabulous community there is around it that has allowed all of these things to happen.

“We’ve got an enormous amount to be thankful for, it’s been an incredible summer and the game, thankfully, has stepped up to the mark.”

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