‘It’s not cricket’ brigade need to get a grip, future of the sport is at stake

As clubs contemplate a return to training ahead of a possible resumption of competitive cricket later in the summer, sceptics say that it won’t be possible to stage ‘proper cricket’

Andy McBrine taking part in training at Bready last week
Andy McBrine taking part in training at Bready last week

The story was a positive one, about how the North West union, (and indeed the NCU) is trying to work out what competitive club cricket will look like if it can return from late July onwards.

I praised the administrators for their ongoing hard work and indeed those clubs who are determined to do everything they can to ensure the game returns in some form or another this summer.

The negativity and scepticism that came in response to the tweet surprised me.

Of course, it’s not going to be easy to stage competitive cricket this summer - some of the red tape being placed in front of clubs is just ridiculous, unreasonable and unenforceable - and if some clubs feel they don’t have the resources to make it happen that is understandable.

However, what I don’t buy for a second is the claim from some that they won’t be taking part on the grounds that “it won’t be cricket”.

The list of excuses was as follows: We can’t play cricket if the wicketkeeper isn’t allowed to stand up; we can’t play cricket because we won’t be allowed in the pavilion; we can’t play cricket because it might rain and we then have to go to the car; we can’t play cricket because the scorers can’t sit together; we can’t play cricket because people won’t be able to drive to matches; we can’t play cricket because we won’t get umpires.

One player’s tweet along the lines of ‘sorry, it’s not for me, it won’t be real cricket’ made my eyes roll.

The first thing to emphasise is that if competitive club cricket here does restart this summer - and that’s by no means guaranteed at this stage - no-one is forcing anyone to take part. If any player doesn’t feel comfortable taking the field because of concerns over Covid-19 that should be respected. Likewise, the age profile of umpires means that some may not want to stand. Again, absolutely no-one would criticise them for staying away until 2021.

Likewise, the cricketing public in Northern Ireland contains many people over 70, or with underlying health conditions, and they may prefer continuing to shield, even as restrictions are eased further as the summer goes on.

Respect for all of those people, if they don’t want to be involved in local cricket’s ‘project restart’, but the ‘it won’t be cricket’ brigade and the person who tweeted that “any watered down version of the real thing just isn’t for me”? No, I’m not having that.

The spin bowlers union have a particular gripe over the fear that a wicketkeeper may not be permitted to stand up to the stumps. As things stand, that’s a problem, but it may not be as the two-metre rule is relaxed later in the summer. Perhaps a wicketkeeper could wear a mask during the overs when he is standing up the stumps? Again, none of this is ideal. But should it stop cricket from resuming, with all of the implications of not staging a single match here this summer?

Of course, it will rain at some stage, probably quite a lot. But the last I heard umbrellas had been invented, oh and I doubt the a gazebo would cost the world. The defeatist attitude of the Twitter brigade stands in contrast to those in our game who are trying their eyestrings out to make cricket happen this summer.

They’re trying their eyestrings out because they love the game, because they know what’s at stake here. If they sit back and take the easy option, well having no cricket at all is a hammer blow, not just at senior level but at junior level too, where we need to be grasping the attention of youngsters who are going to be returning to other sports like football and rugby in the months to come. In fact, I’ve seen football training already resuming with social distancing.

This pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for cricket, right in the mouth of the season, other sports less reliant on the summer weather have time to spare. The clock is already ticking on the cricket season.

But the last few weeks of falling deaths and of falling number of new cases show that this is no time to give up, lockdown has eased more quickly than perhaps many foresaw a few weeks ago. Things are changing all the time, most shops are reopening, hotels will follow, I know where I’d feel safer, on a cricket field or walking around Ikea.

The first important steps will come this week. While Ireland’s elite cricketer resumed their training last week, it looks as if clubs should be able to follow this week, albeit with a raft of regulations to stick to.

No-one is pretending it is going to be easy, or that it will feel normal, but the future of the game is at stake here, this is no time to wave the white flag.

Thank you for reading this story on our website and watching the programme. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Please go to this link and pay just £1 a month for the first three months.