Club Cricket Newsletter 2 - 2020
Fri 20 Mar 2020 
Club news item

Club Cricket’s Unprecedented Challenge

Richard Edwards
18 March 2020

Club cricket, like the world at large, is facing a time of unprecedented uncertainty and requires clear guidance and leadership to ensure that the bedrock of the English game continues to thrive once the coronavirus crisis subsides.

Early spring is usually a time for boundless optimism for clubs up and down the country. Not a ball has been bowled or hit in anger but the prospect of doing both creates a buzz that has endured for well over 150 years.

The 2020 season, though, looks set to be one like no other.

On Wednesday, the ECB announced the suspension of ‘all forms of recreational cricket’, a ruling which extended to training, pre-season friendlies and any other associated cricket activity.

Given the worsening situation, the guidance was hardly a surprise. It did, though, provide a stark reminder of the reach of the coronavirus and the impact it is having on every walk of life.

Simon Prodger, a Cricket Club Conference board member and managing director of the National Cricket Conference, said that a steady flow of information and communication from all relevant bodies was absolutely essential during rapidly-changing times. 

“We’re trying to garner as much conversation and commentary as possible,” he said. “It is a deeply concerning time for the club game in this country. It’s a completely unprecedented situation for cricket clubs everywhere.”

Communication is absolutely essential.

A conference call between key figures in the club game and the ECB took place on Wednesday morning, in an attempt to gain some kind of clarity in what would, ordinarily, be the run-up to the start of the regular season. 

March will often see leagues up and down the country spend around £4m on cricket balls to fulfil their fixtures. That’s a huge financial liability, particularly if the league season is truncated or, in the very worst case scenario, cancelled altogether. That’s just one of the headaches facing a club game which is hoping for the best but stealing itself for the most difficult summer imaginable.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Prodger.

The NCC and CCC had hoped the ECB would provide a start date to the season, or at least a proposed date to the end of the suspension. That would, Prodger argued, give an element of certainty to those clubs who have to manage things such as a catering contracts or employment for club house bar staff.  The huge numbers of sides from the South Asian and African Caribbean cricket communities as well as those regular clubs who hire grounds for third or fourth team cricket still find themselves having little or no idea of when those grounds might be used in the months ahead.

That, of course, is hardly the ECB’s fault. Cricket’s governing body, like every other sporting entity, is scrabbling around for answers to questions that have never been posed before and, one hopes sincerely, will never be asked again.

Those are just some of the issues facing clubs. Other wider considerations, such as the availability of neutral umpires in the midst of the pandemic or the etiquette of shining the ball with saliva, also offer considerable food for thought.

The one certainty as things stand is uncertainty. And it’s being felt by cricket clubs in every corner of the country.

“These aren’t great times and I’m genuinely fearing for the game,” said Gulfraz Riaz, chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council. “We’re the summer sport of this country. In any normal summer, football would be starting to wrap up and so would rugby. We would be waiting to take our turn in the spotlight.

“There are ramifications for All Stars cricket and also Dynamos cricket as well. We’re all in the same boat. There are real concerns for the recreational game as it stands. We know how instrumental junior sections are for clubs – the junior section brings in more money for a club than the senior section. You’re very much reliant on people to pay their subs for the season, even if we don’t know when the season will start.”

Clubs will hope that goodwill goes a long way in the toughest time imaginable but despite the challenges facing cricket there are also opportunities. 

The ECB statement released this week illustrated the impact that cricket clubs can continue to have on the communities they operate in, even in the absence of competition.

“Using our cricket community to support others could be one of the most important services we can offer during the difficult next few months,” the statement read.

With silver-linings very slim on the ground, that’s something that all clubs should be thinking of at the current time, even if its something as simple as club members helping the elderly with their shopping during a period of prolonged isolation.

Riaz also sees what is shaping up to be a summer like no other as an opportunity for the whole of the cricket family to come together, arguing that the current circumstances dictate that sport, like the rest of the country, must present a united front.

“We have to acknowledge that there’s a divide between two very important parts of the cricketing family – we have the South Asian cricket community on one side and the traditional English club-land on the other side,” he said.

“In the middle there is a massive gap and I think we have to recognise that. That’s not a criticism of either party, it’s a reality. This situation could be a fantastic way of having bringing those two sides together.

“We could see a number of people on the English club side decide not to play this year. We could see a real drop in numbers. The message is that people need to get in touch with the Club Cricket Conference, or get in touch with the National Asian Cricket Council so they can find out what group of Asian cricketers are on their doorstep. It could really be that simple because we just don’t know who our neighbours are.”

If that does happen then it’s possible that the most negative situation imaginable could be turned into something far more positive. What format this season will take, though, remains shrouded in uncertainty.