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When will there be a Return to Playing Cricket for Domestic and Recreational cricketers in the UK?

Bristol County Ground
©Cricket World / John Mallett
Covid -19 prevention
©Caterham CC

Many will say the ECB are doing a great job (in the circumstances) and are following all the government guidelines; and yes, it looks like the International season will get underway with the announcement of the West Indies Tour starting on July 8th – but what about domestic and recreational cricket?

Firstly, let us have a look Domestic (County) cricket

Well, this is on hold until at least August - with the players unable to train for fear of contravening ‘furlough’ and with ostensibly no other advice or news coming from the ECB, their season is looking increasingly unlikely to get started at all. Not because of the ‘risk’ factor from Covid-19 but from the ‘risk’ of the players getting injured, by not being fit enough, through lack of the necessary training and netting practice.

Having spoken with a number of players and seeing some of their reactions on social media, it is clearly a frustrating time for county cricketers, whose livelihoods depend on playing and playing injury free. Coaches have told me that to be fully fit bowl for the sustained period that is required in professional cricket, it takes 6 – 8 weeks of full impact readiness (that would mean county cricketers, especially bowlers, would have to be back in full training next week, to hit the beginning of August target of playing competitive cricket, behind closed doors.

The other ‘hot potato’ is that, financially, it makes sense to the bean counters to leave their entire staff on ‘furlough’ until October, when the ‘County’ staff will be down to winter staffing levels again. (At present, my understanding is that only Surrey and Lancashire have not furloughed their playing staff, which could give them a significant advantage over the other counties when domestic cricket does return, if they have been in training)

How can the ECB/Counties overcome these two seemingly unresolvable challenges?

1) Training/Netting - Simply allow all county cricketers to join a local recreational club and use their facilities ‘under government guidelines’ of exercising in their own time or if there is a legal ‘grey’ area on ‘furloughing’ either ask the government outright on their position with it, or bring them out of ‘furlough’ – they can still use local club facilities to train (rather than going to the expense of opening up the County ground facilities)

2) Finance – playing county cricket in August/September will be at a cost, yes - and the Counties will have to reach out to sponsors and members to assist them to cover this - but what would be the cost of not playing at all?  (MCC Members, as I understand it , have been asked by the Club to forego a refund of 2020 membership fees, in the interests of the club, and are looking at many other avenues of income support to safeguard their interests as a club and as a world-class sporting venue)

Surely, county cricket clubs should be doing the same… reaching out to the membership and business community now…..getting back out of ‘furlough’ and salvaging their season…… not running away from it, as it seems to the outside world that they are doing….. otherwise, I fear for the County game, as we know it, with the possibility of clubs folding and a complete restructuring of cricket……..


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Secondly, Recreational cricket

The ECB has lagged government announcements and repeatedly altered prior announcements to clarify announcements about what activities might be possible for the recreational game. When announcements finally come out, they are quickly superseded by the latest government announcements, rendering their latest announcements irrelevant.

This is hugely frustrating for the recreational game, which is mostly run by cricket clubs around the country – all of which have a largely ‘professional’ committee that looks after the interests of each club –accountants/ lawyers/ coaches/ teachers/ groundstaff/ IT/ web/ digital /media/ professionals etc

You could reasonably ask now – what use is the ECB to the recreational game? Does recreational cricket get value for money from the ECB – where does all the Government/Sport England money go? I think now is probably as good a time as any to find out…..

Most clubs have recently received more direct support from the Government, through the Small Business Grant Fund, than they ever had through the ECB and if this is what direct Government support/intervention can do, then I for one would whole heartedly support more ‘direct support’ from Government to community sports clubs.

The latest in a long line of holding announcements from the ECB (in a staggeringly inept series) have been, in the main, utterly patronising to most recreational administrators and cricketers that are trying to plan and find a way of getting some cricket played at all this summer.

The only line of communication* with the recreational game seems to have been a regular (2 times a month) zoom meeting with, as I understand it, representatives of ECB Premier League chairmen  - which, in itself , is only representative of 30% of clubs in England and Wales , at best,  and who are not all speaking on behalf of their clubs, but on behalf of their leagues.


How can recreational cricket get moving again?

Since I first wrote in April - Return to Cricket: what will recreational cricket look like when the Covid-19 ‘Lockdown’ eases? many clubs have been getting ready for a return to playing cricket ,within government guidelines, and are now training, netting and doing 1-2-1 coaching, however, the ECB is still saying that playing recreational cricket is on hold – which, if purely directed at ECB Premier League matches, ECB national competitions and Events (All Stars etc) I could reasonably understand; but I would argue that all other recreational cricket should be left up to all the other clubs/leagues to work out how to return to cricket, within government guidelines etc, and should not be ‘bound’ by ECB Premier League conditions/adaptations or timelines.


Latest information on getting your clubhouse and facilities ready

On a positive note, the ECB has released an update today on the latest guidelines on a Return to Activity in a Club Setting - and we have been speaking with different companies to try to help in accessing products that will assist in the task of opening up your club facilities as ‘covid-safe’.

Many clubs are also realising that their facilities are uniquely positioned, in the community, with a licensed bar/catering  and offering wide open spaces for people to enjoy ‘social distancing’ socially, which can also see benefits from encouraging a wider ‘social membership’ to the club.

Grantham CC have been doing a weekly Diary and have sourced a great sanitising product called ‘Zoono’ , which can be used for a whole clubhouse sanitisation and individual things like balls, stumps, table surfaces etc (lasting up to 30 days) – they are also planning to open the bar and clubhouse, under government guidelines, for use by playing and social members – old and new.

Caterham CC have sourced a number of useful products such as temperature gauges and sanitising/ppe products - the hand sanitiser came from Online Medical Supplies – 20x 100ml, and 10 x 500ml - The two handheld temperature readers came from Light in the Box (see photo)

Stuart Canvas as well as providing their normal cricket products like sight screens, covers etc have a range of useful products as well – please see pdf

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Let’s get back to playing cricket……safely….. comments welcome below….

*Following a recent conversation with Richard Cox (08/06/20), the ECB West Midlands Development Manager, I can further add that the ECB is in fact doing the following regular comms :

ECB to All CCBs on a Wednesday

ECB to All CCCs on a Tuesday

ECB Regions to Counties Lead Officers – 1-1s every week and a formal call on a Friday with the Head of Region (7)

ECB Regions to Leagues – every other week

There are also multiple other formal calls to the network eg PGG every week re FCC and Domestic Game and the CEOS meet weekly so the Comms is pretty regular.