Club Cricket Conference

Monday, 28th September 2020

The Great Tea Debate!

After laying the foundations – or perhaps the tablecloth – for the Great Tea Debate last week, the newsletter appears to have given cricketers, and cricket clubs up and down the country, some serious food for thought.

Enough of the puns, though, because it’s clear from what we’ve heard this week that the instruction for recreational cricketers to bring their own tea to matches, could prove to be a long-term move, and one welcomed by what appears to be a majority of people involved in the club game.

That may or may not surprise some people, but it does appear that one of the sport’s great traditions could soon be given its marching orders - tucking its bat under its arm and exiting sheepishly stage left, after over a century as a staple of Saturday and Sunday afternoon cricket.

Despite the speed of the debate over teas being hastened by the onset of the coronavirus, the argument over whether they should or should not form a fundamental part of league cricket is not a new one.

Back in 2017, in a bid to reverse falling numbers of players and teams in the Hampshire League, it was argued that cutting short the tea break wouldn’t just encourage more cricketers to stay in the game, but would also save cricket clubs a small fortune.

“It does sound an outlandish idea, maybe it is a bit of a curve ball, but cricket teas cost so much money and take up so much time that most people now just don’t have, that getting rid of them could actually help the league,” said then Fair Oak chairman, Tony Oxley.

At the time, Oxley estimated that teas cost the club almost £2000 a season, an amount not to be trifled with. His comments made the national press and breathed fresh life into the tea conservation.

What the Covid-19 crisis has done, however, is to take teas to somewhere near the top of the club cricket agenda.

Given the financial constraints that most clubs are going to find themselves operating with for the foreseeable future, the cost argument is as clear cut as a finely sliced Battenburg.  Put simply, most clubs would be financially better off if teas were scrapped entirely.

They can then, arguably, focus on providing food if and when it’s required by players or spectators during the course of the match – or at a change of innings that promises to be far briefer than was once the case. Not only will this cut down on the risk of tea being wasted in the advent of rain – costing clubs money they can never recoup – it also offers clubs the chance to bring in additional income on a matchday.

Some of those to contact us since the original article from  Newsletter 17, have said that they would look to continue with teas for Sunday fixtures which are, by their very nature, more of a social affair than their Saturday equivalent.

But what has become abundantly clear from the correspondence we’ve received is that the shortening of games, the cost savings, and also money-making opportunities, mean that most cricket clubs have already made up their minds on the issue.

This response from a cricket club treasurer seems to sum up the issues clubs have been facing very succinctly.

“Long gone for us are the days of wives and girlfriends doing a tea rota. We have to pay commercial rates to our “tea lady “,” he says.

“We typically spend £3500 per season on the cost of teas. Yes, this is partially recouped from match fees, but the players and the club all pay far more than if we had BYO. We are firmly in the camp of let’s make the change permanent!”

With that kind of eye-watering cost, it’s little surprise that they’re hoping for an extension to the current tea experiment.

The players themselves also appear to concur, as this response illustrates.

“As a player who has worked my way down the levels with my last regular involvement being as a third team skipper, I would say undoubtedly my biggest problem every week was teas,” he says.

“We were playing at a second ground with a very a basic kitchen area making everything even more difficult. We moved on to ‘bring a plate’ but even this took some organisation, save having cheese and pickle sandwiches for 22. It has staggered me that teas are still seen as essential, and if this pandemic brings an end to this, then I’m sure captains at the lower levels of league structures would breathe a sigh of relief. 

“I’m sure there are many clubs who still have wonderfully prepared teas and that needn’t stop, but tea provision is, by and large, a huge burden.”

Others take a different view, with one respondent arguing that recreational cricket has far  more important matters to concern itself with than whether tea should be removed from proceedings. Again, that’s a valid point given the struggles that most have experienced this season.

But it’s also possible to argue that removing teas and the costs associated with them, would put clubs in a far more robust financial state should the situation in 2020 ever arise again.

This promises to be a debate that will run and run. In the meantime, there is clearly plenty to chew over.