Club Cricket Should Come First

There have been positive noises about international cricket resuming in the not too distant future. However, whilst this is obviously great news, guest writer William Buckingham believes that amateur cricket should be the ECB’s priority. Do you agree? 

Any return to cricket should be done through a ‘bottom up’ approach. This is a view shared by Public Health Adviser to the World Health Organization, Dr Brian McCloskey, who believes it is much easier and safer for local sport facilities to reopen than bigger events. This is why there should be equal, if not greater, focus on resuming amateur cricket over professional cricket this summer.

From a health perspective the risks are higher with professional cricket. The cross-country travel, the requirement to stay in hotels, and the presence of the media are all features of the professional game that increase the risk of transmission. Amateur cricket avoids these problems.

More significantly though, a summer without amateur cricket could have greater repercussions for the game than a summer without professional cricket. Why? Because a cricketless summer would undermine local club finances and see many of them fold.

What’s more, many amateurs will get out the habit of playing regularly and may never return to the game afterwards. With dwindling participation already a major problem, a cricketless summer would be another nail in the coffin. 

With lucrative broadcasting deals at risk, the ECB is looking at the current predicament from the opposite perspective – a ‘top down’ approach. While the authorities have outlined their concern for the amateur game, there has been little communication surrounding its prospects and potential contingency plans.

When speaking on The Tuffers and Vaughan Cricket Show, Tom Harrison failed to mention the amateur game at all and focused exclusively on the professionals. He therefore gave the impression that the ECB is disregarding its most important stakeholder, its club cricketers, in favour of finances.

I fear this would prove disastrous. If professional cricket is played on television in empty stadiums but no amateur cricket of any sorts takes place this summer then the integrity of the ECB would be compromised. After all, if the professional game can restart then, according to McCloskey, the amateur game should have no problems ether.

Although testing provides a considerable challenge for the amateur game – it’s obviously much easier to monitor the health of a smaller group of professionals – the fact that COVID-19 testing is now available for anyone with symptoms should help the situation considerably.

Consequently, the ECB should focus on the logistics of enabling recreational cricket to return. The new government guidelines suggest that cricket facilities could open for small groups. Indeed, some clubs are slowly beginning to reopen nets.

But when will actual games begin? Thought needs to go into this urgently. Cricket is not a contact sport so, like golf, social distancing should be a lot easier to follow than in other sports. Indeed, golf courses around the country are already open. The only potential obstacle would be shining the ball. Changing rooms and other club facilities are not absolutely essential in amateur cricket.

It’s also worth mentioning that many cricket fans are elderly and often live alone. Watching and supporting their local team is often a substantial part of their social life. The return of amateur cricket could therefore help the mental health and social wellbeing of a group who have suffered so much during the coronavirus pandemic. Watching live professional cricket on television (even if they can afford the subscription fee) just wouldn’t fill the gap in the same way.

Obviously safety should always come first. It would be irresponsible to restart either professional or amateur cricket until the coronavirus poses a minimal threat.

However, if the professional game takes priority, and the amateur game is largely ignored and neglected, then the consequences may be greater than the authorities might think.

After all, cricket is nothing without its amateur players.

William Buckingham

42 comments

  • I play club cricket and have just recently made a furtive return to the nets after a 3 month covid induced break. Although I would like to start playing as soon as possible, I think there is a bit of a problem with transport for amateur players. If 11 players have cars or bikes or live in walking distance from the ground then fine. You can maintain reasonable social distance playing cricket, just the playing isn’t the problem though.

    I’m from London and have no wish whatsoever to use public transport for the foreseeable future. I can reasonably get to grounds within a few miles of where I live but I don’t have a car. This means that fixtures more than a few miles away for many teams are going to be problematic. You can’t share vehicles at this point, nor should you be encouraging players to use public transport until the infections are considerably falling.

  • “[Harrison] therefore gave the impression that the ECB is disregarding its most important stakeholder…in favour of finances”.

    Surely not!! What an absurd impression….

  • For recreational cricket to start people will have to park their aspirations for league cricket and play local friendlies that minimise travel and the competitive behaviour that brings close vicinity. Also some palyers maybe reicient and raising teams will be an issue for some.

    I would like to see the ECB lay out playing guidelines akin to tennis have done, playing a game will be that little more taxing than before.

  • Wholeheartedly agree………..ECB is infatuated about cricket finances and only looking at this through an England Cricket lens…………..recreational (club) cricket is the lifeblood of the game and must be started, in as safe a manner as possible, soon as.

    Of course there are issues to be addressed but none are insurmountable. It will not be possible to play in a zero risk environment (I think this is what the ECB are seeking) and anyway everyone is at risk just going to the supermarket for essential food so…………..

    Let’s just use common sense, reduce the risk as much as is humanly possible, and get club cricket going again. In an era where ECB are pushing money and resources to increase participation this is essential or current and potential cricketers may be lost to the game forever.

  • Although I watch international cricket i no longer play it.

    However, I do play and run a softball league (cross between baseball and rounders for those who haven’t heard of it) and we’re looking at how we can make it safe. Our issues will be similar to cricket: the logistics of getting players to games, teams not being able to field sides as too many of their players don’t wish to return until safer, transmission issues – particularly the ball. We’ve said that the sharing of club helmets cannot be allowed and as players normally share club bats, these need to be sanitised between use. We also have the issue of players and the umpires being in close proximity – particularly batter, catcher (think wicketkeeper) and umpire who stands almost over the catcher. These positions all need to be moved slightly.

    I can see cricket having the same issues……

  • I realise that reads like I’m an ex-international player. Before anyone reaches for Wisden to find out who I used to play for, I didn’t! 🙂

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  • “other club facilities are not absolutely essential in amateur cricket”

    Absolute rubbish! Toilets, running water and plenty of other things are needed if recreational cricket is to return. No chance of getting umpires for a 4/6 hour afternoon without some sort of facility. What about safety, first aid etc.
    Just be patient. Although i agree that the likes of Tom Harrison has no real interest in the recreational game – plenty of folk working for the ECB do. At the end of the day it is the volunteers who run the Leagues and Clubs that will sort it out – as always. Just wait for 8 15 August.

    • Plenty of recreational cricket is played without facilities. The social team I turn out for often play at Barnes Common. It’s just a field. There are public toilets up the road if needed.

      If it’s a higher standard club game then the pavilion toilets could be opened. Measures could be taken to make these facilities pretty safe. Antiviral wipes, sprays etc would be a start. Communal changing rooms aren’t essential. People could turn up in their kit and go home to shower.

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      • A real issue is that many cricket clubs are part of a multi-sports set up. I am not sure how to ensure safe behaviour when the ball is dumped into the tennis courts (at my club) or the bowls at 2 of the other clubs in our league. But I must admit to missing the sight of the elderly scattering on the bowls green – even though I am not far off their age!

  • There’s so many pros and cons for both sides that you could argue a convincing case for both, but from a personal perspective I don’t want to see international cricket until it’s deemed safe for the general public to watch. As I’ve repeatedly said for me there’s no point to professional sport unless it has a live audience to give it purpose and atmosphere. TV only sport is weird. I tried to watch the Gibraltar Open snooker just before lockdown, where they played in an empty auditorium, but found the whole thing hollow and didn’t bother with it after the first round. Personally I’d rather watch stuff from the archives than live artificial games.
    The general public is having to cope with the threat of unemployment and financial hardship, why should we be looking to protect comparatively wealthy sportsmen from the same.
    So, I side with the albeit minority amateur circuit. The only problem I see with cricket is, as its the social side as much as the playing, how do you make pavilions ‘safe’ places without massive inconvenience. As has already been mentioned on this blog, transporting players to and from grounds could be an issue, it being traditional to share cars, but for the time being, as most players will have transport, this should be surmountable.
    However now that looney Boris has effectively let the social distance cat out of the bag by allowing people to meet in back gardens, parks and beaches, ridiculously expecting people to adhere to the 2 metre rule, something they are already ‘not’ doing in droves, is there much point to the whole business any more. Any sensible strategy has now vanished and with no effective enforcement policy people pretty much please themselves as we wait to see if a 2nd spikes results. By being too soft initially, trying to be all things to all people, something that never works in any walk of life, the government has lost control as their ‘experts’ bicker about almost every aspect of getting us back on track.
    What we need at all levels is coherent leadership and that is conspicuously lacking the world over as quite predictably everyone looks to protect their own interests.

  • Simon, I tend to agree. The problem with “lockdown” is that it isn’t lockdown at all. Yesterday the beaches and beauty spots were heaving with people with little social bloody distancing taking place. If they are going to play any sport then play the lot from amateur to professional, at least people will get an immunity which they won’t do locked in doors. This Governments half baked one foot in the door approach isn’t working, there are still more CV cases per day now than when lockdown started. The public are making up their own minds.
    As for the ECB, well what do you expect from an organisation run by ex bankers and shop keepers. It’s all about money and Sky TV.

  • you are missing one obvious point and that is the lifeblood of amateur cricket, it is not the players or the volunteers, it is the income clubs take behind the bar
    If the bar can not open then you struggle to play any sort of cricket
    You can’t just rock up like you do on say a 4g football pitch and just play
    The ground has to be maintained, the wicket has to be prepared, players and any spectators will have to use the clubhouse/pavilion for the toilet. A new ball costs £28, an umpire £50 plus a scorer-most clubs subsidise these costs via bar income
    It costs my club plenty just to open the pavilion, if we cant sell drinks then who is going to cover any costs

  • Club cricket and county cricket should be happening at the same time as international cricket resumes . It is grotesque to assume, as we must, that the ECB are encouraging counties to continue to furlough their players rather than give them some of the money which they are reserving to take as many as 55 of them out of furlough and into the “England bubble”, whether or not they are really needed for international cricket.

    The ECB seem to care little for the grass roots, and continue to treat counties with contempt.

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  • More importantly, who is that batsman? Solid in defence, stylish in attack? Clearly no tailender captured playing his only 2 decent shots in a season! Hope you are well James, see you are making use of Taylor Sports Images Inc.!

    • Hi Kev. I looked high and low for the best club cricketer in the land. I alighted on CC Top’s No1 all rounder. Glad you approve.

      Hope you’re well too mate. Yes Simon’s photography has proved very useful over the years. He’s good!

  • Who’s that defensively solid, but stylish shot playing batsman? Wish I could bat like him, hope it wasn’t his only 2 decent shots in a season😉

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  • Pro cricket can live in safe bubbles, get regular testing etc etc.

    Amateurs have a bunch of clowns who generally you can’t trust to be civil to each other let alone protect each other. You simply can’t social distance in cricket (8k+ infectious at least a day still and 300+ deaths) .. keeper standing up?? Umpires near batters/bowlers panting (let alone their age).. changing facilities…. travel to and from the ground.. that’s before someone runs and the balls is thrown in.. does he keeper or player go to thr stumps to ge tit and break social distancing ??? If not, it’s a free run every time.. if so, we are suddnely increasing the risk for what??

    Sure people go shopping as that’s essential.. they go to work or school as it’s essential.. cricket simply isn’t

    I am netting in my own barn and now at the club on a square with one other person. It’s more than enough for 2020 given the circumstances .

    Most leagues aren’t doing promotion or relegation so there is bugger all competitive about a game or league without it did in most sides will not have their usual players as as many will decline as want to play so sides andd leagues become a joke anyway.. again, taking an increased risk for what point ?? To thrash a sun standard team ?? Woo, Yey.. great fun

    Just be sensible and forget 2020 and train hard come through safe time and hit 2021 stronger, fitter and better

    • Hen you have the ball.. touched by everyone.. how is it shined so it swings and doesn’t just go up and down and become a dog ball after 20 overs ?? Which again, if you allow that h beamers beco,is boringly easy to bat and un enjoyable to bowl with..

      Again, what’s the point as there is no promotion or relegation and half the sides will be missing players ..

      • Good point, and something no one’s mentioned until now. Do players wear gloves to field and carry anti-bacterial wipes. Many club cricketers share kit, how does that work. The more you go into it the more holes appear in any argument to resume playing atall in the present circumstances.

      • When I bowled (I stopped at 60) I always reckoned that if I did not know what the ball was going to do (or where it was going) then there was no chance that the batsman would read me.

    • Well we all seem to think cricket IS a contact sport despite the experts telling us it isn’t. Well of course it is. Whatever your view on the handling of the virus, at the end of the day all sport played behind closed doors with endless restrictions is a grossly devalued product. Personally I’m happy to wait until it can be played again properly, which is likely to be next year. Find another interest, I have.

  • In the present circumstances you cannot separate cricket and politics as it’s politics that governs how and when we are going to be able to watch or play our beloved game again.

  • “…stick to cricket….” says the woman who’s just come out with a childish insult about which paper the previous commenters read–which is not relevant to lockdown or cricket–and an equally childish insult about a completely unrelated political issue…

  • ““The game’s newest test, the threat of Covid-19, will challenge us all. I am certain that no corner of the game will emerge the same”. (Colin Graves)

    Doesn’t sound too upset at the prospect, does he?

    • …says the man whose organisation is announcing that, contrary to everything we have recently been told about their finances, it can withstand a loss of almost £300m.

  • An excellent article. Participation at club level is increasingly challenging in a crowded leisure and time poor environment. A summer with no cricket will mean a significant number of people will get out of the habit of playing. Other sports will welcome cricketers into their clubs with open arms if people can participate. Golf clubs are gaining lots of new members at the moment I think the future of club cricket is very precarious and the ECB need to realise that it is not all about eyeballs on sky and media deals and they Ignore the club and village clubs at their peril.

  • The bottom line is all these rules and regulations are in place for a reason. No point at all to play Saturday friendlys travelling to field with no facilities. Cricket is 90% social with out pubs clubhouses wait until you can enjoy cricket properly.

  • Surprised that so many are saying the social side is all important. I thought there would be more hunger for the game. In India you get the feeling that any spare piece of land is soon turned into a cricket pitch. When I was a child we all played in the streets against lamp posts. Cricket wasn’t dependent on “social facilities” for enjoyment. Maybe something has gone wrong here?

    However in the context of the virus at large it would be much harder to control amateurs. A sad fact is that young men and men in their 40s are the ones most guilty of ignoring social distancing etc. To have a hotspot develop around a village cricket club for example would be horrific. As it is groups of men gathering together are the most likely to aid transmission. They are just not careful enough unless they have a partner they have to protect. If you have responsible clubs with strict rules then it might be possible but the game has to be the thing not boozing. If that’s too great a sacrifice then it’s too dangerous.

    • Is your comment about young to middle-aged men based on evidence or hearsay? I ask because where I live there is fairly equal-opportunities flouting of the rules. Women in their 70s, including shop assistants, is one group I notice….

    • Everyone I speak to misses the social aspect of cricket but not the game. Sadly the amateur game has lost its charm, become too ‘professional’ , too much money floating about and of course then you have the aggressive (in a bad way) and sledging which worse and worse each seaosn

      Why would people miss this ??

      I net daily and have for months but I don’t miss the game at all, I do miss the social side however with my own team.

  • Whilst I competely agree about the financial obsession of Harrison and Graves I cannot blame them for this fiasco. The blame must lie at the feet of the Benny Hill tribute act in No10 and his assortment of clowns around him. If the likes of South Korea and Germany could organise testing and tracing 2 months ago (and minimise the impact of the virus as a result) then the fact that we could not (and the resultant impact on sport) can only be laid at the feet of Boris. This is not about the politics (no doubt our other political leaders would also have been poor), it is the sheer incompetence which is to be condemned. I seriously doubt we will see any club cricket this year.

    • Is there any club sport in Germany ??

      Let’s not forget that we had 550 deaths left out of the daily brief yesterday and we lost 360 today…. and people think it’s safe to suddenly play amateur cricket !!!!!

      • My German friends (I used to work in Munich) tell me they are back playing icestock (think curling without the ice). A game that requires the arm muscles of a powerlifter – so I guess the virus is the lesser threat!

        But I agree with you. My point was not that Germany (or SK) had decided to bring back amateur sport – it was that they had managed the situation so much better and have the choice to do so safely much earlier than the incompetents we have in charge.

  • As club president,coach, umpire and a past player, I can’t see any league cricket this year. In very rural north Wales, there are several games where !we travel 50+ miles to get to some grounds. For social distancing, it would mean 11 cars, plus possibly a couple more for umpires and scorers–what about players too young to drive or non drivers. Even if some local friendlies of a few miles, which has been suggested, the same will apply. Players passing the ball to each other !!?? Umpires in charge of ball. Many smaller clubs have quite small pavilions including small changing rooms, toilets and showers. Has anyone thought to rain during a match and 22 players, umpires, scorers, tea people, some players partners and even children (possibly 40 odd people)all making a dash for the pavilion. I don’t think it’s possible. My other concern is, as with others, is losing players to the game, especially golf, when you can play anytime and even go on your own ~(I’m not a golfer)

  • You have to argue whether trying to resume somewhat diluted sport just yet is really necessary. Yes we’d all like to see some cricket but quite frankly is it really that bad if we get no or very little cricket this year? I don’t think it is at present, and personally my mind set is that there won’t be any cricket at all. I have many other interests and at these continuing difficult times don’t really think all the hastle and risk of putting on bits and pieces sport is all that important.

  • Many interesting views and opinions.

    Personally, I am missing my mates more than playing. Nets have started again so if the weather is ok, I will go up to watch from the boundary next week as I’m not really bothered about practicing for something that won’t happen.

    On the social side of things there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t all take our own food and a couple of beers of that’s what we want. It isn’t hard to get a circle to sit where we are all six feet apart so we can have a chat.

    In terms of playing, I’d suggest players umpire the games with an umpire being present who could act as a match referee to make sure everything is done properly and no blatant cheating occurs. He doesn’t have to be on the pitch and can socially distance.

    Most players can socially distance in the field but contact with the ball could be an issue.

    The majority of people I play with are 30 or under and genuinely don’t give a monkey’s about the disease as they think it won’t affect them that badly. If you try to talk about transmitting it to more vulnerable people you can see their eyes glaze over.

    I would love to get back to playing a few friendlies by the end of the season but my Sunday team is an over 50s side so there’s no chance of us playing this year. My Saturday team probably won’t be able to get two teams out as some have already written off the season. So we couldn’t fulfill league fixtures probably but I am certain that any League would have to be understanding this season.

  • Vert well said and presented. ECB do not care much for grassroot level and this clearly shows. There are many many enthusiastic amateur level players who still love the game and waiting eagerly for it to start. We have to live our life now with this virus and with all precautions keeping in mind, amateur level cricket can be started from July. But who can explain a board which think of getting some money out of empty stands and sponsorship. After all Money speaks and matter to anyone so do the board and they are proving it by disgracing amateur cricket. All the best guys if you get a game this summer. LOL

  • Announcement today ….

    Basically the competitive season is over so 8-9 ‘competitive’ friendlies.. wtf are they.. you either play a meaningful game or it’s just a Sunday doss where it’s. A bunch of lesser players and the good ones either don’t do much to make it a good game or they smash runs or skittle a side and it’s a Boring one sided affair..

    Just call 2020 off ffs

    People want the social side and aren’t generally missing ‘the game’.. maybe it’s time to wonder why and spend time fixing the game to make it enjoyable to actually play

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