What about us?
Updated: Feb 19
With the cricketing world's focus shifting back to international cricket with the England vs West Indies tests announced and set to begin in July, how has COVID-19 impacted club cricket around the country and what will the long-term effects be on casual cricketers?
The start of this year was no different for me from other years as I began to think of the cricket season. I wanted to play cricket. I was looking forward to winter nets beginning as I do every year as a sign that the season is on its way. As it turned out I only managed to be at one nets session because soon after they had begun came the ECB's message following government guidelines to halt all training. Few of us then had any idea of what was to come. I was gutted.
In previous years I had neglected fitness work thinking "it's only cricket". But this winter I had consciously made an effort to do what I could so I was best prepared for the season. I took up running and did some weights sessions. It felt like a lot of my hard work had gone to waste. I'm sure many people are in similar situations having put plenty of time and effort into preparing for the season. Others still have probably forked out a decent amount of money on equipment which they may never get to use this season. There's no denying cricket is quite an expensive sport to play and in the case of those who have invested in some serious kit this season, it could really put players off the game if they feel they won't get any use out of the equipment.
Initially there was plenty of enthusiasm from my clubs with lots of quiz evenings via zoom calls to stay in contact. However, as with most of these, the enthusiasm died down after a couple of weeks. More recently, one club member has been running zoom fitness exercises which have been well put together and pretty tiring. This has coincided with optimism of the season beginning having reached the highest point since lockdown began. All this, unfortunately, is no substitute for playing the game we love and sharing drinks and memories after the game no matter the result. To think we might not have this opportunity at all this season makes me miss it all the more.
What has frustrated me most has been the uncoordinated messages that the government and sports' governing bodies have provided. The speed of messaging has been poor. Only in the last week has the ECB released their 'roadmap' of returning to cricket at club level. This however, gave very little information that wasn't already known, and steps one and two (lockdown and household activity) have been completed, and step three (small group training) has already begun. I feel I have been very cautious in my approach to training. Only in recent weeks have I made my first few trips to the nets. These sessions have consisted of me and two family members (all from the same household) and a fourth trip with a clubmate. As much as I enjoyed being back with ball in hand, it still felt quite hollow knowing that if the season were to begin it would not be before August 1st at the earliest.
After the most enthralling summer of English cricket in a generation it will be a massive shame if the attention created by the World Cup and Ashes is simply forgotten. In the aftermath of two of the most exciting finishes I have ever seen, the buzz around the game was immense with large numbers of juniors signing up to clubs in the following weeks. For the youngsters whose attention was captured in those final moments at Lord's and Headingley, this could have been their year to develop from being interested in cricket to being obsessed by it. For me, 2005 was that year, and I am very sad that others are not having the opportunity that I had to fall in love with the sport.
The question is what will change? How will the ECB and clubs respond to the complete lack of cricket this season? As already stated there is to be no recreational cricket in the UK until August and therefore any hope of a 'normal' season went out the window a long time ago. Would it be possible for clubs to organise shorter 8-a-side friendly matches possibly on weekday evenings? This way at least people would be able to play the game, albeit in a different format than they are used to. I know that I and others would be more than happy to play anything that even resembles cricket. The Sussex Cricket League has scrapped relegation and promotion and plan to play all scheduled fixtures as friendlies with a view to possibly organise a short t20 competition. At this point is it really worth playing four Saturday games that were due to be part of a league season?
The challenge now for the ECB and local clubs will be to try to recapture the sense of enthusiasm for the game that was at a peak not seen since 2005. I am still fanatical about the game but is everyone else?