By Richard Edwards
21 August 2020
By and large, recreational cricket has responded magnificently to the unprecedented challenges posed to the sport in 2020. Some, though, have found themselves on the front line in every sense.
The need for a biosecure bubble – a phrase not readily associated with cricket before this extraordinary summer – thrust Arundel, Radlett and Aigburth into the spotlight and once again demonstrated some of the magnificent facilities available below the first class game.
Middlesex, Hampshire and Lancashire all have ample reason to be thankful for their very welcome intervention, despite the manifest problems that handing over the keys has created.
Arundel’s case is slightly different, with the Arundel Castle Cricket Club a separate entity to Arundel CC, who play their matches just off the A27 at Waterwoods Plain. Radlett and Liverpool Cricket Club, meanwhile, have had to juggle their responsibilities to their members with ensuring that first class cricket in the form of the Bob Willis Trophy could take place at their superbly appointed facilities.
“We’ve got a good ground and we’ve had a lot of help from Middlesex in helping to develop it,” says Tony Johnson, the Radlett president and chairman. “We have been looking after their 2’s since 2005/06 and then it has been turned into a First Class venue from 2012 onwards.
“The Covid situation and the Covid secure arrangement, means we have another match on Saturday and then that’s it for the Bob Willis Trophy. It hasn’t been easy, there’s no point in hiding that fact from the club point of view. In terms of a boost, it has demonstrated just what a good ground we have here. But it has had an impact -we can’t deny that”.
It will be interesting to see what happens in 2021, with common sense suggesting that all three will perhaps be offered more hosting opportunities when spectators are finally allowed back into grounds up and down the country.
As chairman of the Herts League as well, Johnson had already arranged fixtures away from the club to allow for Middlesex’s Royal London Cup commitments before Covid-19 struck. And Radlett are no stranger to accommodating the needs of both club and county – something they have managed adroitly since the mid-2000s.
The amount of work facing those who work within these clubs, though, shouldn’t be underestimated.
“The league has been a challenge as well,” says Johnson. “Mind you, not too long ago, it looked extremely unlikely that was going to be any recreational cricket at all. On that fateful day when Boris (Johnson) talked about the cricket ball being a ‘vector of disease’ we were vey depondent. Then suddenly, the next day, everything was back on.
“We have had a lot to deal with. It has pretty much taken up the whole of my time!”
On the plus side, the contribution from Radlett, Liverpool and Arundel has once again illustrated just how invaluable out-grounds can be. The hope must be that this continues to be demonstrated in good times as well as bad.
Arundel has proved a fantastic base for Hampshire since the county returned to training back in July. Their win over Surrey this week – thanks in no small part to James Fuller’s stunning hat-trick – only served to strengthen the bond between a county whose borders with Sussex have become increasingly blurred, and its new temporary home.
“It’s a pretty special place,” says Fuller. “We’ve been staying in the town as well, so the coffee shops have been getting some pretty good business out of us! We’ve enjoyed staying here and the ground itself has been an incredible place to play and train. It has turned into a real home from home.”
Hampshire’s players celebrated their victory on Tuesday with a couple of beers on the outfield before they climbed wearily into their cars and pointed them in the direction of Portsmouth and home territory.
A fixture against Sussex there next season, though, might have both teams battling it out for the home dressing room.
“Your traditional cricket follower does enjoy the experience and as long as these grounds can keep their infrastructure up to date then I think there’s most definitely a future for them,” says James Rufey, the chief operating officer at Arundel Castle Cricket Club.
“I think what people have seen this year hasn’t done out-ground cricket any harm.”
The contribution of clubs during this incredibly difficult time shouldn’t be under-estimated. The three mentioned above have all done their bit, but so have those who opened their doors to county players and offered somewhere to train during the period of lockdown.
In a year like no other, they have all done their bit.