Cricketers take first steps towards return
For the first time this year the sound of leather on willow can be heard around Shropshire after cricket clubs began reopening their nets.
Shrewsbury and Quatt are among the sides now allowing limited access to their facilities in accordance with guidelines from the government and the England and Wales Cricket Board.
A slight relaxing of lockdown measures earlier this month permitted the use of outdoor nets for one-on-one coaching and practice, provided extensive safety conditions are followed.
Clubs have been required to set-up online booking systems, while adjacent lanes cannot be used at the same time.
But while nets reopening is a major step forward, captains are still unsure if they will be able to play competitive cricket this year.
“We have got three nets set up which the players have to go through a booking system to use,” said Shrewsbury skipper Will Parton.
“The ECB has issued guidelines for how we can practice in nets and that was important because we have to prepare as if we are going to be able to play.
“At this point, though, it is still impossible to know if we are going to be able to play meaningful cricket this year.
“You could, theoretically, play half-a-season if we start in mid-August. But that will depend on the weather and if there is any set-back to the government’s plans.
“One day I think we will get to play, and then the next I think we won’t.
“But I think we might end up in a situation where we just play friendlies against fellow Shropshire sides.”
Parton says there is a lot for clubs to think about before the season can resume.
“Obviously it is massively disappointing that we haven’t been able to play,” he continued.
“Cricket is a game where you can social distance. But there may be players or empires who are high risk.
“Clubs also won’t be able to open the bar, things like that.
“The league is having regular meetings but there is no doubt feelings are mixed. There are some players who want to play and others who don’t.
“And if teams are struggling to put out their strongest teams, that’s another reason why we may just have to play friendlies.”
Craig Jones – who is skipper and groundsman at Shropshire County League side Quatt – says they are also making the most of being able to use their nets.
“We have opened the nets for the players who have requested them,” he said.
“Players are being asked to arrive in twos so there is one on the bowling machine and one in the nets.
“But we are operating on a booking basis so there are only a couple of people there at a time.
“We have also fitted a hand sanitiser and have asked the players to bring their own hand sanitiser to use.”
Like Shrewsbury skipper Parton, Jones is unsure if there will be competitive cricket this year – but he hopes there is.
“If you had asked me two or three weeks ago I would have thought we had no chance of playing, but now I think we might see some cricket,” he continued.
“It may be that the league organises some sort of Twenty20 because I think it will be a real shame if we don’t see any competitive cricket.
“I think you need that competitive element to keep people interested and you don’t want to lose people from the game – especially younger players. People like me who have been playing the game for 30 years are always going to be around.
“It’s got to be safe but I think the ECB need to do everything they can to get some meaningful cricket on.”