Club cricket waits on ECB guidance following Boris Johnson’s u-turn

Recreational cricket is back, declared Boris Johnson on Friday teatime, performing one of those political u-turns he executes so nonchalently.
How close can wicketkeepers stand when cricket resumes? (Picture: Steve Riding)How close can wicketkeepers stand when cricket resumes? (Picture: Steve Riding)
How close can wicketkeepers stand when cricket resumes? (Picture: Steve Riding)

“Having been stumped by the science, cricket can resume next weekend,” he said at Downing Street.

Marvellous. Get the pads on, have a couple of sessions in the nets to knock the rust off and we’ll see you on the wicket at 1pm this coming Saturday (July 11) for the toss.

If only it were that simple.

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Cricket may have been given the government’s blessing but there remains a long way to go before the sights and sounds of village cricket on a Saturday afternoon can continue society’s return to something representing the old normal.

Three of the biggest leagues in Yorkshire, for a start, will not be resuming competitive cricket this coming Saturday.

Those leagues, their players and their clubs, are all waiting for further guidance from the game’s governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board, as to the finer points of cricket’s return.

There are myriad questions that remain unanswered:

Can the wicketkeeper stand within two metres of the batsman?

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Can cricket resume with 11 players or does it have to be with reduced numbers?

Can clubs serve teas to the two teams?

Will players have access to the dressing rooms?

While those questions remain unanswered, recreational cricket will remain on hold.

“We won’t be returning on July 11,” confirmed Alan Birkenshaw, the secretary of the Bradford League.

“We need to see the finer details of those guidelines.

“Social distancing is still an issue, health and hygiene also. We still don’t know if wicketkeepers have to stand two metres away.

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“We’ve gone from Step 3 to Step 4 on the ECB’s roadmap but Step 5 is the key, when 11-a-side cricket can return.

“Six-a-side, if that is the stage we’re at, might encourage junior cricket which would be good because we want to keep those youngsters engaged and don’t want to lose them to the game. But the Bradford League is very competitive. We cannot play until we get to Step 5 and are permitted to have 11-a-side cricket.”

Throughout the whole coronavirus pandemic, which prompted a lockdown of society in March and with it the suspension of local cricket that was due to start in mid-April, leagues across the county have been in constant contact with their member clubs.

Issues like health and safety, wellbeing, the structure of competitions if and when sport returns, have been at the top of every agenda.

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“It’s the clubs and their players that are most important because they are the ones taking the risks,” continued Birkenshaw.

“We’ve always consulted with our clubs. We surveyed them last week about player availability, potential competitions etc.

“It would take us a couple of weeks anyway to reshape the competition. We would probably have to make bespoke competitions for this year.

“We are pleased to see a glimmer of light but we still feel there’s a long way to go.”

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Because of that, the Bradford League, is yet to state when it will resume, though it is understood the first Saturday in August – which would coincide with the start of Yorkshire CCC’s season in the County Championship – is the anticipated date.

Yorkshire Premier League South has far fewer member clubs and is confident that with positive news upon the release of the ECB guidelines, cricket could return a week after the Prime Minister’s restart date.

“We hope to be playing by July 18,” explained Roger Pugh, chairman of the Yorkshire Premier League South. “That guidance from the ECB is key, and hopefully we get it either Monday or Tuesday of this week so we can put it to the clubs in midweek.

“The clubs wanted two weeks’ notice and last week’s announcement gives them that time.

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“But 11-a-side is key for us. If we’re told it can’t be 11-a-side then we will have to go back to our clubs.”

Yorkshire Premier League South are as far down the road as having a competition mapped out should 11-a-side cricket be permitted and ball hits willow from Saturday, July 18.

They will stage a 40-over competition with the 12 clubs split into two groups of six. Fixtures will be played home and away, with a final on September 19.

For their counterparts in the Yorkshire Premier League North, where there are considerably more clubs, the picture is not so clear.

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Rob Richtering, chairman of Yorkshire Premier League North, said: “There are still so many questions and not enough answers, which is very frustrating.

“What do clubs and players want, and what will the ECB and the government allow? Can they serve teas? Can players use the changing rooms, or do they have to arrive in their cars fully dressed? Until we get those answers it’s all just opinions.

“All we can do is try as hard as we can to get cricket on as quickly and as safely as possible.”

So recreational cricket may have to wait another weekend – or maybe even longer. But at least there is hope of village cricket being played this summer, when a month ago there was perhaps none.

Roll on the reveal of the ECB guidelines and Saturday, July 18.

Heavy rain that day would be especially cruel.