By Richard Edwards
16th December 2022
The temperatures may have been on the cusp of a seasonal plummet, but there was a traditionally warm welcome for everyone who attended the annual Club Cricket Conference (CCC) lunch at Lord’s at the end of November.
With a steel band and a bar stocked with Spanish lager reminding us that, in even the depths of winter, the summer sun and the return of the game we all love, is only ever a few months off.
This year’s lunch, run in association with our friends at the Grenada Tourist Board, once again shone the spotlight on the recreational cricket community that do so much for the game in this country. It also served to illustrate the generosity of those who donated over the course of an afternoon that raised over £35,000 for the Club Cricket Conference.
This writer found himself in the rather privileged position of being sat alongside Graham Gooch, a man who still looked in good enough shape to open the batting for his country. Although whether he would score as quickly as Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett have done in the past couple of weeks is a moot point.
As well as sharing his stories of his own experience in Pakistan on England’s ill-fated tour to the country in the winter of 1987 – his captain on that tour, Mike Gatting, was sat at an adjacent table – Gooch also talked about the importance of both club cricket and a county game which has changed out of all recognition since he played his final game for Essex back in 1997.
The game, he says, is something approaching a tipping point. Too much cricket, a creaking schedule, and players being asked to play across multiple formats with no real time to properly hone their skills in any of them. Although given England’s recent success, for the time being at least, the majority of those players are coping with the demands placed upon them.
What he is clear about, though, is the continued importance of the club game. Despite having had relatively little exposure to cricket below the professional level himself, he is still quick to credit the coaching he received from Bill Morris, an Ilford CC stalwart who had played for Essex during the 1950s, for setting him up for the astonishing career that was to follow.
His hilarious address to the CCC audience showed the lighter side of a man who was renowned for his serious approach to training when he took over as England skipper in 1990. Indeed, after perhaps one of the most dismal periods in the country’s history, Gooch is rightly lauded as the man responsible for lifting the cricket mood for the early part of that decade.
Mike Gatting – who featured prominently in Gooch’s story-telling – and Angus Fraser, were also in the room. As was Tim Lamb, the former CEO of the ECB. All were enjoying the convivial atmosphere fostered by a luncheon which brings together old friends and fosters the creation of new relationships year-after-year.
To my right, was Ben Wilson, whose ‘Save Village Cricket’ campaign on social media has done its bit to preserve the recreational game over the past 12 months. He says there are plans afoot to extend the offering and his enthusiasm for the sport, which comes across so strongly in every conversation, is to be applauded. He’s no bad cricketer either, at one point talking an impressed Gooch through his own opening stand of 300 in a club game for Bayford and Hertford Nondescripts CC.
Elsewhere on the table Nasa Hussain – less well known than his phonetic namesake but one of the great characters in Yorkshire cricket – talked about the surreal experience of being a groundsman during the pandemic.
Overseen with typical swagger by the evergreen Roger Dakin, and including comic talents of Ian Irving, the lunch was, as ever, a fantastic melting pot. With the funds raised through the raffle, the silent auction and the event itself, assuming ever greater importance for the future of the grassroots game.
As another year draws to a close, it was a timely reminder of just why the club game remains so special. And why those who work or volunteer in recreational cricket make it what it is.