COVID-19 and clubs: six cricket activities still possible

As you may have noticed, there’s a pandemic on. If you’re a cricket person, you’ll also have noticed how hard-hit the sport has been. Yes, the football season has been hurt by its postponement, but it’s in no real danger of losing its position in the public’s mind or affections.

Cricket, by contrast, is in a much more perilous situation, both professionally and recreationally. There’s a real chance no county – and maybe no international – cricket will be played in the 2020 summer. That’s bad enough for the financial state of the English game, yet even more serious is the impact of COVID-19 on club cricket. 2020 was the year to relaunch the game for a new generation, one where the Hundred (whatever your views on it are) would build on the success of the England men’s World Cup triumph and inspire a new set of young players to take up the game. Delayed by a year, that surge may never arrive.

The pinch is at both ends of the age spectrum, though. Many current players may never return. This is not a comment on mortality – although, sadly, coronavirus will without a doubt claim many club cricketers – rather, it’s a recognition of the fact that many older cricketers are playing on a season-to-season basis, always half-wondering whether this year will be the one to officially draw stumps. Once off the treadmill, the fear is they’ll never get back on it – and club cricket will lose the several years they would have otherwise gone on to play. It can ill-afford to lose the wealth of knowledge and the sturdy good sense it needs to guide it that they provide.

As the weather turns warmer, spirits will soar with the sun, only to be dulled by the restrictions. The idea of net practice, which captains may have struggled to induce players to attend in years gone by, suddenly seems a delectable forbidden pleasure. The pre-season April friendly in near-gale conditions takes on an air of Edenic beauty. Meanwhile, players are stuck at home with Fifa/iPlayer/TikTok.

Yet they – we – are not powerless. There are cricket-related lockdown activities that will be of genuine use in preparing for when the key is turned and the door is opened again. We’re not talking about practice drills you can do in garden/hallway/room, useful as those are; not everyone has access to the space needed for them, and they often require some specialist equipment. Nor are we discussing alternative cricket activities – watching clips on YouTube, book cricket, etc. We’re discussing practical steps that require effort but will still leave your club in better shape.

Are they glamourous? No. Will they provide hilarious footage ripe for a 30-second YouTube video? No. Will they mean your club is better able to hit the ground running when the blessed day of cricket dawns? Yes.

1. Train as a scorer

You’re stuck inside. You’ve tidied your workspace for the 39th time today. You’re watching cricket through a little rectangle in front of you. Yes, self-isolation is the ideal preparation for time in the scorebox.

The ECB have a free online cricket scoring course, “Basic Scoring”. It’s been there for several years. If you’ve been putting it off for reasons of time and now you have a lot of time on your hands, you have no excuse.

As far as practical impact on the game goes, this has to be up there: club cricket needs more trained officials. The smoother the games proceed, the happier the participants: this’ll help to ensure that the few games played this season yield maximum satisfaction.

2. Gen up on umpiring

I did warn you these tips were going to be glamour-free.

Unlike scoring, it’s harder to do this all electronically. However, you can do the first, most basic course, “Occasional Umpire”, free online. This can be augmented by reading Tom Smith’s, not to mention the Laws themselves, and sets you up for further training when the lockdown ends. (It would be a great idea for the ECB ACO to hold umpire and scorer training webinars during the lockdown to allow further progression through the more advanced courses.)

On a more morbid note, it should be recognised that those who traditionally make up the majority of the umpiring community fall into a high-risk group, and therefore that portion of the game runs the risk of being particularly badly hit by COVID-19. There’ll be a need for new officials to make up the shortfall: start learning now, and remove the need to guess what should happen when the batsman taps a ball gently on to the square only for an over-zealous canine to confiscate it.

3. Revamp your club’s website

You’d never guess that I’m a web designer in another life, would you? Still, there’s no need to call a professional in. Take the time now to review, refresh or rebuild your club’s website. What does it say? Are the contact details up to date? Is its messaging clear? Does it provide all that a prospective player/parent wants to know? Does it show any signs of life? Even now it can be a crucial conduit for club support, as clubs request donations to stay afloat, and keep club members abreast of any movement towards the possibility of cricket restarting. You might not have the best facilities in the area, but you can have the best website.

4. Maintain a local club’s facilities

Talking of facilities, the ECB’s interpretation of Government guidance is that essential maintenance can proceed, provided social distancing and other appropriate measures are observed. It’s a good opportunity to get out of the house and on to some green space. It also means that rather than cramming all the maintenance into one weekend just before the season starts, sufficient time can be taken over matters that require more planning.

Not affiliated with a club who has their own ground? Volunteering provides a chance to build a link with them and provide real help. If the lockdown is lifted and no work has been done on the ground up to that point, it’ll be weeks before it’s ready for play. So don’t let the lack of game time translate to a lack of preparation.

5. Build a scoreboard

Need a project to keep you going and that you can do from home? Build a scoreboard. Ideally, you’ll need a home workshop, or at least an area of your home that you can devote to construction. Yet even if you can’t spare much space, you should at least have enough to fabricate some new number cards. Let there be no more scratching around for a spare 3 next year.

Want a greater challenge, or are inclined to the geeky? Have a go at an electronic version: there’s an online guide on how to do so from Westbury-on-Severn CC. It’ll probably be the envy of your league.

6. Support your sponsors

With businesses struggling on every side, now is the time for your club to repay the support that your local businesses have given over many years. Want their support in the future? Make sure you help them now. So don’t buy Tom Smith’s from Amazon, buy it from Jones Books, proud fixture-list sponsor of Village Wanderers CC; order your scoreboard materials from County Building Merchants, main sponsor of Local Town CC; etc., etc.

In conclusion

Weird as it may seem to say it, clubs could exit COVID-19 stronger, thrown together by adversity, emerging with a better structure and greater focus. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, let’s look out for one another, through both reaching out and staying home – and hope to see each other in person at the cricket.

Cricket World Cup 2019: week 3, update #4—Don’t shoot the DLS

The fourth of an informal weekly (p)review of the 2019 Cricket World Cup – or, as I like to call it, the #Champ10nsTrophy.

It wouldn’t be a World Cup without some rain-rule controversy. South Africa still haven’t haven’t forgotten their 22-from-0.1 semi-final fiasco in 1992 (although, in truth, they didn’t deserve to win that game, after their excessively slow over rate; they’d had the better of the regulations up to that point).

Some may feel that Pakistan had the rub of the green against them (which will naturally happen, of course, if your ODI kit is that colour) in today’s game, whose Duckworth-Lewis-Stern adjustment left them needing 136 runs in 5 overs rather than 170 in 15. This simply isn’t the case. DLS yielded a sensible target, despite first glances.

It’s crucial to understand that Duckworth/Lewis does not calculate how many further runs the chasing team should have to score; it calculates the target. This may seem like a coat-of-varnish distinction but the difference becomes more understandable when one realises that the target is not affected by the batting team’s current score, only their wickets and overs remaining.

In other words, Pakistan would have had to chase 302 from 40 overs, regardless of whether they were 16-6, 66-6, 266-6, or, as it transpired, 166-6.

The par score—the score at which the two teams could be said to be neck-and-neck—for six wickets down at 35 overs was 252-6. Being 166-6 meant they were 86 runs behind the par score, and naturally enough, on resumption they therefore weren’t in any sort of position to chase 136 in 5. If the game had been abandoned without those 5 overs, they’d have lost by 86 runs.

After playing those 5 overs, Pakistan actually lost by 89 runs. Remember that they were 86 behind the par score. In other words, the target nigh-on perfectly preserved the teams’ relative positions. If they’d been up with the par score, and scored the same runs in those 5 overs (46, for the record) that they ended up scoring, they’d have lost by 3 runs —again demonstrating how well-balanced the DLS target was.

Don’t blame DLS for the faintly absurd conclusion. If you must blame something (and does one really need to do so?) blame:

  • Pakistan’s batsmen for being 86 runs behind the par score at the interruption.
  • The regulations that forced the teams to continue playing five futile overs.
  • Limited-overs cricket, that forces teams to go on playing when the result is a forgone conclusion. Talking of conclusions, this’ll do.

Cricket World Cup 2019: week 2, update #3—The Cup runneth over

The third of an informal weekly (p)review of the 2019 Cricket World Cup – or, as I like to call it, the #Champ10nsTrophy.

More precisely, the UK runneth over with rainfall. To almost everyone’s (no-one’s) surprise, the World Cup has coincided with unseasonal, protracted deluges. Already we’re into record-breaking territory as regards numbers of abandoned games.

It’s a bitter blow to Gloucestershire, in particular, who are reportedly down around £10,000-20,000, thanks to the two games they were scheduled to host being scuppered. For the first time ever in recorded history, we may be counting on better weather Up North, as the centre of the tournament gyrates towards the northern counties, with Headingley, Old Trafford, and Chester-le-Street all yet to record their first game.

It’s not all bad news, however, as the rain has at least revealed that what we all believed to be a truly awful format, the #Champ10nsTrophy 10-team round robin, to actually be a stroke of genius on the part of the ICC. Why? Because with 9 games per team, losing one or two to weather isn’t necessarily terminal to that team’s chances. In fact, it’s probably done Sri Lanka something of a favour, and allowed South Africa to finally record a point. Pakistan and West Indies may see things somewhat differently, of course.

Never mind that it would have been amusing to see a couple of teams eliminated having only completed one match, as Australia were in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Furthermore, there may be a few naysayers quibbling over the minor inconveniences of the format: the total lack of Associates, the crushing alienation of any developing cricket nation, the bloated 46-day schedule. However, I, for one, now welcome our new ICC overlords.

Some would observe that the World Cup isn’t meant to be a league to determine the best over time: it should primarily be a tournamant to determine the best under pressure. Such ones would doubtless claim that though a balance needs to be struck so that single results (especially at the beginning of the tournament) do not have devastating consequences in and of themselves, the current 10-team league is weighted far too heavily towards the other end of the spectrum.

Presumably they’d also recommend Russell Degnan’s 20-team, 36-day format. (One notes in passing that (coincidentally, presumably) his post ID for that piece is 2007, the year of the 16-team World Cup that put paid to more equitable formats down the line.)

What do they know, however? Fourteen days in, the composition of the top four is just as might have been predicted two weeks (years?) ago: NZ, AUS, ENG, IND. So far, so good for the Indian broadcaster; ergo, so good for the ICC; ergo, so good for cricket.

It’s all going swimmingly, in fact. Which seems appropriate, considering that that sport might have a better chance of play.