England and Wales cricket clubs face ‘lost summer’ amid lockdown | Sport

Perched on a hilltop just north of Bath, the Broadleys ground, home of Marshfield CC, looks picture-postcard perfect. The playing surface has been cut and rolled, the spectators’ benches are in place, the practice nets ripple in the summer breeze.

The only problem is that no competitive sport is being played here, and the prime minister’s assertion that the cricket ball is a “natural vector” for Covid-19 has left players, coaches and supporters scratching their heads and worrying about when the next match will take place.

“People are very frustrated,” said the club secretary, Ben White, “especially as the weather has been so cracking. The club has been doing so well. Our first team was promoted last year, the youth section has been building brilliantly. There was a buzz about the place. Then, bang, you can’t play cricket.”

Coronavirus has stopped play at Wiltshire’s Marshfield CC.

Coronavirus has stopped play at Wiltshire’s Marshfield CC. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Many fans of recreational cricket are baffled that people in England can visit shops and will soon be able to head to pubs, restaurants and hairdressers. Tennis and basketball courts have been allowed to open but cricket matches remain off.

“It’s a funny one,” said White. “Cricket is a non-contact sport. Most of the time you’re miles away from anyone else. I find it tricky to understand.”

Marshfield CC

Young players at Marshfield CC arrive for a net session despite not being allowed to play matches. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

In common with many village clubs, Marshfield CC, motto: village cricket at its best, is at the heart of the community. Robin Hand, a stalwart of the youth section, which last year numbered more than 200 girls and boys, said that Friday night training was usually one of the highlights of village life.

“People from the village and surrounding areas descend on the ground to drink, eat and talk together,” he said. “Parents can decompress after a busy week at work, players can whack a ball to finish the school week. New friendships are formed, old ones paused by the winter are re-energised.”

Training for men, women and children has carefully resumed at clubs like Marshfield in recent weeks, with safety measures in place and reduced numbers. But bars remain shut and the loss of actual matches is keenly felt.

Marshfield first team scorer Jonathan Burnstone said he was missing matches enormously. “The routine and patterns of a summer weekend are lost: the chat, the rivalries, a hard-fought game, the teas and the cosiness of the bar afterwards. It’s hard to think that we might have to wait another year until things return to some semblance of normality.”

Boris Johnson’s “vector” comments have confused many, including the English and Wales Cricket Board, which issued a statement saying that it still hoped recreational cricket would start next month, and Bharat Pankhania, an expert on communicable disease at Exeter University, and a huge cricket fan.

“Nothing is 100% safe in life,” Pankhania, who is also a councillor in Bath and North East Somerset, said. “But the risk from a cricket ball seems very low,” he added. He said there must be ways for cricketers to take action to lessen this risk, such as carrying a small bottle of hand sanitiser in their cricket whites.

Alan Birkinshaw, development officer at the Bradford Premier League, said it had fully expected to relaunch. “People were buoyed up, ready to play. Now there’s a sense of disgust and disappointment,” he said.

Clubs across the country are counting the cost of lost revenue from membership fees and bar takings. Birkinshaw fears that if cricket doesn’t fully resume, a generation of youngsters will be lost to other sports or computer games. “This should have been a great year,” he said.

The grassroots competitive game is also on pause in Wales. Chris Thorne, the head of senior cricket at St Fagans, a village on the outskirts of Cardiff, said: “The consequences of a lost summer of cricket will be hugely damaging for clubs. The cricket authorities need to hammer home the message with government to ensure we can get the show back on the road as soon as possible.”

As the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who keep cricket going attest, it is more than a game.

Peter Spavin, a mental health nurse and Sunday skipper of the Easton Cuttlefish club in Bristol, said there was something comforting about the sport’s metronomic rhythm. “It’s nice to get into that rhythm, that flow.”

Teams like his bring together a broad spectrum of people from different backgrounds. And without it? “I think there’s a big dip in people’s mood. I think there’s a big increase in social anxiety. I think you miss the exercise, the camaraderie. We’d love to get back and will play games as soon as we’re allowed.”

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