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.
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.