Wiltshire Cricket - Covid-19 Recreational Game Update

Message from Wiltshire Cricket Managing Director, Peter Sykes

Firstly, I hope everyone is safe and well. Following the release of ECB’s roadmap for the return of recreational cricket and as we see various parts of society opening up I am very aware of the strong desire from the Cricket network in Wiltshire to see us back playing again in the near future. Therefore, I felt an email to provide; a) some relevant updates on the return of recreational cricket, b) some context in terms of decision making at an ECB level, and, c) some Wiltshire specific information might be useful.

Recreational Cricket – Some important context:

The purpose of the below list of bullet points is to provide some context to explain previous decision making but also to give an insight in to how recreational cricket matchplay will be able to return:

  • All decisions regarding the re-introduction of elements of recreational cricket have always had to be, and will continue to be, approved by Government
    • Examples include the guidance issued around use of nets and outfields, and then the subsequent small group practice guidance. In both cases there was a process of DCMS approval of ECB guidance before that guidance could be issued to the Cricket network. This will be the case with all future announcements as we move through the roadmap
  • Recreational Cricket is not, and never has been, working to the same timeframe as the professional game – I know at times there has been some confusion on this given that press releases about delays to the professional game have also included notices about recreational cricket. Prior to the release of the ECB roadmap, the accurate position throughout has been that recreational cricket was suspended until further notice. The position now is that recreational cricket is at step 3 of the roadmap, in line with the current government restrictions around exercise.
  • Protecting people’s safety whilst at the same time trying to bring the game back is not an easy balance to strike – If you were to scroll through social media you would see opinions on recreational cricket ranging from 'why aren't we playing cricket now' to 'the season should be cancelled'. The reality is that we are in unprecedented times and so trying to navigate a way through this that keeps everyone happy and that balances the need to protect people's safety whilst also trying to bring the game back is incredibly difficult. However, given that society is starting to open up it is only right that the ECB is now actively working on a return for recreational cricket. Ultimately our business is Cricket and so if Government restrictions allow we will of course want to be providing cricket for people to play (read more on Wiltshire’s plans for this below). The key caveat though is that recreational cricket matchplay can only return if;
  1. The Government permits team sports matches to take place, and,
  2. There is a Government increase in bubble size for exercise to a point that allows a game of Cricket to be played.

The Government role in Cricket's return cannot be understated as it addresses the question of 'why aren’t ECB allowing recreational cricket to be played now'. It is also important to note that as with any governing body it is incredibly important that the ECB acts responsibly and cautiously with regards a return to activity. This is because once we move to step 4 and adapted gameplay can recommence it will mean 6,500 cricket clubs and hundreds of thousands of people potentially moving in to an environment where they will come in to contact with countless other people. So again, striking the balance between keeping public safety at the forefront of decision making (which Government expects responsible NGBs to do), whilst also satisfying and giving confidence to stakeholders that a plan is in place for a return to play, is not easy.

Where are we now:

With the context above in mind, the ECB has released its roadmap for return to play which outlines the plan for a return to matchplay. The roadmap highlights that there will be a necessary step between where we are now (step 3) and getting back to normal play (step 5). This step is known as Step 4: Adapted Game Play

In terms of where we are now, the ECB has today released the following statement for us as a County Board to share:

The Secretary of State's message on Tuesday evening outlined plans for earmarking an early July date as being the earliest possible return for recreational cricket. 

Last week ECB published their 5 Step Roadmap highlighting that currently the game is in Step 3 of its return. The ECB will continue to work with and be led by UK Government advice, only advising clubs move into step 4 when the Government allows and when it is deemed medically safe to do so.

As cricket is a non-contact sport that involves individual disciplines within a team environment, the ECB are optimistic that forms of the game can be played while respecting social distancing. Step 4, Adapted Play, will allow for cricket to be played, operating under Government rules and with modifications to the game to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all involved.

It is ECB's ambition to deliver guidelines for a return to play as soon as possible after the Government gives permission to proceed, but please note that given the importance of ensuring cricket clubs and individuals are as safe as can be, this may take a few days from any Government announcement.

What’s next?

So, with the roadmap being released the obvious questions now being asked are what does step 4 actually entail and what can we as clubs/leagues etc be doing now? As the ECB statement above says, it is the ambition to deliver guidelines for a return to play as soon as possible. At Wiltshire Cricket it is our understanding that this will come in the form of some specific guidance for step 4 playing conditions and will likely cover:

  • Social distancing requirements
  • Hygiene protocols
  • Recommended adaptations to the game

Getting the detail on these things will be hugely important in terms of understanding what type of Cricket can be played and organised across the county, which leads on to my section below.

What’s happening in Wiltshire Cricket?

I would start by reiterating that we can’t move forward to step 4 without government approval. I would also stress how difficult it is to give clarity on what the rest of this season could look like without knowing the specifics of step 4 and the restrictions and parameters within which the game will be required to operate. However, with the hope that we can see adapted game play return this summer it is only right that the focus of Cricket administrators is now on providing and facilitating as much matchplay as is possible once the government restrictions allow. However, this comes with a couple of caveats, namely:

  • If and when we do move to step 4 there will be no pressure placed on clubs to play if they do not feel they are able to. There are a whole host of reasons why clubs may not want to play, including facility/ground issues, player availability etc
  • We should be tolerant of the different wishes of stakeholders, i.e. players and clubs, because there are going to be many different perceptions of risk as well as personal circumstances which may mean players or volunteers don’t want to, or can’t, be involved this year.

In terms of work currently going on within Wiltshire, I would note:

Adult League Cricket – We are working closely with both the West of England Premier League (WEPL) and Wiltshire County Cricket League (WCCL) with both leagues themselves working hard behind the scenes to be ready to react to future Government and ECB announcements; specifically in terms of a move to step 4 of ECB’s roadmap. In WCCL’s case they have conducted a survey which has given a good early indication of the wishes of clubs for the remainder of this season, should there be an opportunity to play. Of course, we realise that once details of ‘step 4; adapted game play’ emerge then clubs may want to revisit their position

Junior League Cricket – We are working closely with the Wiltshire Youth Cricket League (WYCL) with the latest initiative being the release of a survey to gain understanding on what clubs’ preferences would be for the remainder of the season should we get the opportunity to play

Representative Cricket – Currently, government have not approved the audience of county and district girls and boys as one that we can organise activity for. However, we have begun communication with all county and district coaches to plan for different scenarios later in the summer so as to maximise and use any window we may get to provide some form of cricket for the girls and boys currently on the Wiltshire Youth Cricket talent pathway

In the case of both the WCCL and WYCL I know that clubs will be kept informed of the plans for the remainder of the season with the main point being that they will be prepared to facilitate meaningful cricket for clubs that want it, and if the government/ECB restrictions allow. This hopefully provides clubs with confidence that planning is taking place whilst appreciating that the detail can’t be implemented until we know more about the conditions under which we will need to operate.

From a Cricket Board point of view I would also reiterate that there will be no pressure on clubs to play Cricket this summer, nor will there be consequences for clubs that do not wish to compete in organised competitions this year. Additionally, if there are clubs that do not wish to be involved in competitions that are organised by Leagues but would wish to play friendly cricket then I absolutely see a role for us as a Cricket Board in helping to facilitate this.

National Programmes Update and other audiences:

I am aware that the section above talks about three groups; adult league cricketers, youth league cricketers and talent pathway cricketers. There are of course many other audiences and initiatives that are priorities for Wiltshire Cricket, for example women and girls club cricket, All Stars Cricket and Dynamos Cricket. On the latter point about All Stars and Dynamos, we have been given the following statement by ECB to share:

Further detail on National Competitions and National Participation Programmes will be shared with County Cricket Boards for onward distribution next week.

So, I hope that I will be in a position to provide clubs with an update on All Stars Cricket and Dynamos Cricket next week.

In terms of women’s and girls cricket, it would absolutely be a priority for us to try to facilitate some activity later this summer if the step 4 guidelines allow. The capacity to drive all areas of Wiltshire Cricket is currently limited due to the number of staff on furlough but as a Cricket Board we are regularly reviewing this and with women and girls cricket being such a priority area for growth it will be at the forefront of our minds when considering which areas of the game we will prioritise once staff return from furlough and once step 4 details are confirmed.

I would just like to finish by thanking everyone for their continued patience. We of course all want to be playing Cricket and it continues to be an incredibly challenging time for the Sport that we all love. There is also still a lot of uncertainty over what the rest of the summer holds with considerable complexities and hurdles to overcome. However, I hope the message above has given confidence that things are moving in a positive direction and at the very least I hope the message above provides some information around what is happening behind the scenes and how and why decisions are being made.

My very best wishes to everyone