Life as a village cricketer – COVID edition

You’ve probably already heard of COVID-19 and felt some of its impact. It has left nothing untouched, not even the sacrosanct English pursuit of the sound of leather on willow echoing across village greens up and down the country. Professional sport was halted almost everywhere and cricket was no exception.

It was good to be getting kit ready again as village cricket returned

At one stage the prospect of getting back out and playing at all in 2020 looked bleak. The ECB, to the surprise of absolutely no one, was inexplicably slow at pushing for a resumption of the amateur game. Unless there is a multi-million-pound TV deal on the table, the ECB isn’t really interested in anything. As other sports such as golf, tennis, football and even basketball were given the greenlight to resume, cricket dithered. It’s odd that cricket is sport run by people who seem to absolutely detest cricket.

A further setback for the sport was proffered by no lesser voice than British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who described the humble cricket ball as “a vector of the disease.” Dark forces were clearly at work behind the scenes; perhaps Dominic Cummings’s sister’s brother in law has one eye on a village green for a property deal and needs to shut down the pesky cricket club first? I can’t prove that, I should add, it’s just a musing. But would you be surprised?

This shitshow rolled on for quite some time. Once people were ambiguously releases from lockdown to fraternise with other human beings with whom they did not share a dwelling, clandestine net sessions were being organised to hone the skills in the hope of summer being allowed to commence.

Then, much to the chagrin of the ECB, cricket was given the greenlight to proceed! This meant that the ECB had to put together COVID guidelines, which must have been an awful inconvenience for the sake of a bunch of amateurs. The ball would need cleansing every six overs, as would the fielding side’s hands. No sweat or saliva would be applied to the ball. No teas would be prepared communally, it was every man and woman for themselves.

Saturday 11 July, cricket returned. I was selected for Thames Ditton Cricket Club’s 4th XI and we were set to face Hampton Hill’s 4th XI. Bowling first, we reduced them to 30-odd/8, but their number 10 top scored with 35 and we were left to chase 97. Which sounds easy. But the first game of the season on an unused pitch (which isn’t exactly looked after like Lord’s) is never easy. I opened the batting, entrusting my Black Cat Shadow to help me through. After a tricky start in which I was repeatedly beaten by the new ball, I slapped a loose ball over the covers for four. I thought I was in. Next ball I tried to repeat the trick, didn’t move my feet and served up a simple catch. Gone for six, the season was up and running and we saw the game through to win by five wickets.

Two weekends later I was in Sunday action away at Hook & Southborough. Batting first, I was coming in at three, which resulted in an early arrival at the crease in the second over. It wasn’t a pleasant day, with scattered showers, angry clouds and a howling wind. I got hit in the stomach, cut my elbow, got hit on the arm and strained my groin. Still, I was out there for 20 overs, grinding my way to 23 runs from 56 balls. My first three scoring shots were swept boundaries and I was easing into 2020. At the drinks break, still only one wicket down, the captain told us in no uncertain terms to get a move on. Which I tried. I slapped a half-tacker straight back at the bowler’s head. For a moment I was worried, then I was relieved that he’d actually caught it, then I was annoyed that I was out. Our captain came in next and hit 86 from 38 balls. We won by 132 runs. The game finished at 8:30pm.

The following Sunday we hosted Vishwa CC in Thames Ditton. They won the toss and batted first, amassing 195/7 from their 40 overs. I fielded like someone who had been listening to Boris Johnson, determined not to lay a finger on that damned vector of the disease. I batted that way too, straying across my crease to be bowled by a straight one aimed at leg stump for one. Some days are better than others, this wasn’t one of my best. Still, we won by six wickets.

I played my first league game of the season the next Saturday for TDCC 4th XI against Kingstonian CC 4th XI. Dropping catches is never good. Dropping a catch during a heatwave when you’ve lost the toss and watching the batsman go on to make a century really heightens the experience. It left us chasing 283 from 40 overs against one of the slowest teams you could wish to face. Ever seen a 15-minute drinks break? I hadn’t, either. Opening up I managed a new top score for the season, hitting 29 in 75-minutes of energy sapping heat. A couple of flicks off the pads made their way to the boundary before a mistimed pull shot found its way to cover. We went on to lose by 125 runs.

The strained groin came back to haunt me that day, too, so a week off was required up next. Then came a rearranged league game against Reigate Priory CC 5th XI. Reigate Priory is one of the top clubs in Surrey and the ground, for some reason made available for this fixture, has been graced by some veritable batting legends of the game: M. Waugh, W.G. Grace, J. Hobbs, M. Ramprakash, A. Stewart, G. Thorpe, S. Tendulkar, Izamam-ul-Haq, M. Youssuf, G. Greenidge, G. Headley – you get my drift (a full list is available here).

I turned up somewhat bleary-eyed following a decent dinner and a few drinks with friends on the Saturday evening. The ground is on an imposing slope and I was keen to see what the skipper decided. “If I win the toss, you’re opening,” came the reply. Get it out of the way early, I guess. He did win the toss, so on went the pads.

Batting on a slope is really difficult. Deliveries from the top of it were coming back in a long way and I didn’t really see much of the opening salvo, playing and missing, just hanging on. There is a pub at the back of the ground, with the garden set above the line of the sight screen. In a neighbouring garden an old chap arranged his summer chair and looked to bed in for the afternoon. He was gone after six overs – a man who has most likely seen many of the aforementioned names grace this pitch knew he wasn’t in for an afternoon of high quality fayre. He should’ve waited.

After a tricky opening spell we got into it. A 50 partnership. My opening partner reached his 50 only to be undone by the slope. We’d put on 84, however, and I’d crept to my highest score of the season, moving from 19 to 31 in three deliveries – an inside edge to fine leg, a flick through backward square then a brutal straight drive that whistled past the stumps en route to the boundary. I was in.

The trouble with playing at such a location is that they have good scoreboards, so I knew exactly what I was on. For someone who has only ever scored one half century, the 40s are a nervous place to be. Yet here I was, in unfamiliar surroundings. 40 became 44 with some sharp running. 44 became 48 with a pull through square leg. Then came a huge lbw shout as I propped forward to their spinner. The appeal was rejected (thanks, Neil!!), and the next ball was a short one which I thumped through wide mid-on. And that was that, my second half century, on a hangover and on a ground which has been graced by some of the great and good of cricket.

Unfortunately, this preceded a catastrophic collapse, as we fell from a great platform at 120/1 after 24 overs to being in serious trouble at 125/8. Some lower order rallying dragged us to 178/8 from our 40 overs, before a dropped catch (not me this time!) enabled their best batsman to register 88. We lost by four wickets.

And so the season rolls on. I’ve scored 112 runs at an average of 22.40, which for me, is bloody brilliant! 2020 hasn’t been all bad.

With thanks to Black Cat Cricket, Thames Ditton CC and Concorde CC for the secret net sessions!

By Miles Reucroft

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