Nothing stirs the cricket-lover more during a long Winter than the steady advance of April. Kit dug out and bat oiled. The whirr of mower blades, the smell of newly mown grass. The anticipation of Test Matches with tickets bought long ago. Of Championship cricket, white-ball cricket, club cricket, village cricket, any old cricket.
Lyrical accounts of games coming across the airwaves, where accounts of buses and birds mix seamlessly with commentary on batting and bowling.
Groundsmen will have been gearing up for the season. Early cuts of the outfield, the square lovingly scarified, mown, fed and rolled. Many will have been more concerned with turf disease than the all-pervading current virus. Meanwhile some of their colleagues were facing problems, which just a short while ago, were described as ‘catastrophic’.
Several grounds had been submerged during the wettest February on record. Worcester had reverted to its usual boating lake status and clubs such as Stafford, Burton, Carlisle were under-water for some time. Many possibly to be out-of-action for the start of the season.
Such short-term difficulties have now paled into insignificance. Today all cricket clubs are facing a summer where little, if any cricket, will be played. In normal circumstances, clubs would be able to at least open their bars and facilities to generate income, but that is off the agenda for the foreseeable future.
But the prep work will go on for most. Writing to members over the weekend MCC chief executive Guy Lavender said “Our Lords’ ground staff, led by Head Groundsman Karl McDermott, are continuing their year-round work to maintain the square and outfield, to ensure that we are ready to go just as soon as cricket resume.”
It will be the same story up and down the land. Now there will surely be a wider community role for cricket clubs. Many will have machinery and volunteers to help keep gardens and grassed areas in their locality looking good as we get into the growing season. Subject, of course, to ever-changing health guidelines.
Personally, I will miss the buzz of the cricket season enormously. There are only so many times when you can re-watch the World Cup Final at Lords (perhaps not!). I’ve been an MCC member since 1963, but in the Summer had a knee operation, and never made it to HQ at all during the year. Hence my added anticipation of the 2020 season.
However, a day at the cricket last year still burns brightly in the memory. In May, I made it to the charming Newclose Ground in the Isle of Wight where Hampshire were playing Notts in a four-day Championship game. What a splendid occasion, a charming ground, teams packed with International players, local students preparing the food, the surrounding grass banks filled with schoolchildren.
Hampshire play Notts at Newclose
Head groundsman Andy Butler (working in tandem with HCCCs Nigel Gray) had prepared a terrific wicket. The game produced more than 1,100 runs over four innings, Indian test batsman Anjinkya Rahane and Sam Northeast scored centuries and the game finished at teatime on the fourth day with a Hampshire win. Inferior pitches? Humbug!
Cricket is bound to be in short supply this year, so if memories is all we have, that one day encapsulates for me. Stadiums are fine, but the spirit of the game lies deep in the community. Where the unsung can step up the plate – and put on a show to match anything at the top of the game.
What shape the professional game will be in when normality returns, goodness only knows. The recreational game should be fine and able to pick up the pieces quickly.
For now, it will only be played in the head. Oh, what I would give for a simple Rain Stopped Play this Spring. Never would I have been so pleased to hear an announcement that lunch would be taken early! I fear it’s going to be a long ‘lunch’.
Chris Biddle founded Turf Pro in 1998. He says his best cricketing memory was only conceding five runs an over bowling to Viv Richards (who was qualifying for Somerset) in a club game in Bath!