Sounds of summer as cricket is back in nets

For the first time this year the sound of leather on willow can be heard around the West Midlands after cricket clubs began reopening their nets.

Wombourne Cricket Club have reopened their nets under strict ECB social distancing guidelines. Pictured, Matt Summers with his son Ollie.
Wombourne Cricket Club have reopened their nets under strict ECB social distancing guidelines.

Wombourne, Cannock and Himley are among several clubs now allowing limited access to their facilities in accordance with guidelines from the government and ECB.

A slight relaxing of lockdown measures earlier this month permitted the use of outdoor nets for one-on-one coaching, provided extensive safety conditions are followed.

Clubs have been required to set-up online booking systems, while adjacent lanes should never be used at the same time.

“It has taken an awful lot of work just to get everything in place,” explained Mick Rogers, fixtures secretary and groundsman at Wombourne, who opened their nets for the first time last Thursday.

“There have been numerous hurdles we needed to clear to make sure everything was as safe as possible.

“We’ve got three outdoor nets at the ground and it is only the outer two we can open. There will also be a member of the committee on site at all times.”

Each individual net session is limited to an hour, though those training are required to be off site before the next group arrives.

Rogers continued: “For the moment we are opening the nets for a couple of hours each night and then at weekends. We will see how things go.
Wombourne Cricket Club have reopened their nets under strict ECB social distancing guidelines.

“It is going to be interesting to see what the demand is like. It is only a very small step but at the same time it is nice just to see a few people around and about the club again.”

The general response of clubs to the new guidelines, published on May 15, has been caution.

Himley opened their nets for the first time on Sunday as part of a four-hour trial though others, including Wolverhampton, have decided to keep facilities completely closed for now.

“We had a review of the situation and decided we simply could not guarantee meeting all of the requirements right now,” explained Wolverhampton club captain Mike Smith.

“We do have qualified coaches but we decided, on balance, that it was an awful lot of responsibility to put on one person’s shoulders.

“In the dialogue we have had with the ECB they have advised caution so that is what we have done.”

While nets might be reopening at some clubs, the chances of them playing competitive cricket this year remain slim.

The recreational game is currently suspended indefinitely and though regional leagues, including the Birmingham League, are considering a range of alternative formats should they get the go-ahead to play in late summer, finding a safe way to resume will not be straightforward, particularly while social distancing measures remain in place.

One positive for clubs has been the financial help made available through local authority, ECB and Sport England grants.

“Financially, we are in pretty good shape,” said Smith. “There have been a number of grants made available which have been a godsend to many clubs. There has been a lot of help.

“We have teams who play in both the Birmingham League and the South Staffs League and the communication we have received from both has been very good.

“On the flip side, there really isn’t too much anyone can really say at the moment. We still don’t know when we will be playing cricket again. There is no date for resumption.

“It is frustrating because we put a lot of plans in place for this season, not just in terms of playing but also on the social and community side of things.

“But there is nothing you can do. People’s health is the most important thing and like everyone else we will just have to wait.”