Club cricket is getting underway across Australia and the outlook for another season is positive, despite ongoing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Cricket Australia is hoping COVID-19 won’t affect registration numbers this summer
- Sydney grade cricket is aiming to start next month
- Hobart clubs will be affected while the city is in lockdown this weekend
This time last year, cricket authorities were anxious about participation numbers plummeting because of the pandemic, but it did not happen.
Communities that had been locked down rushed back to play games.
Junior participation increased by 2 per cent.
That experience has created optimism for this season, particularly after restrictions on community sport ease in New South Wales and Victoria.
“Going off last year, cricket became a drawcard for something to do in the community,” Cricket Australia’s participation manager Stuart Whiley said.
Western Australia and Queensland cricket leagues have been the least affected by COVID-19, while Northern Territory staged a popular winter season.
Whiley said he was grateful for the work of volunteers over the past few months.
The promise of no more lockdowns is a fillip for clubs and leagues across the nation, although preparing ‘COVID-19 safe’ protocols is a stressful experience.
There is still much work to be done.
All states and regions have slightly different starting times, and some border communities will face unique problems.
Here is a snapshot of cricket in several Australian communities.
South-east South Australia
Many South Australian leagues are starting this weekend.
The South Australian Cricket Association’s south-east regional manager James Dunn said cricketers were “excited to go”.
There are four cricket associations in that part of Australia: Millicent and District, Naracoorte and District, Tatiara and District, and Mount Gambier and District.
Mount Gambier’s league has been held back for two weeks — its starting date is October 30 — to allow for an A-Grade season of 15 weeks for all its two-day matches.
The season will finish in March.
A big headache for administrators and players in the area is the prevention of border crossings, as some families who play in the Mount Gamier league live in Victoria.
The changing state-by-state COVID-19 restrictions can also lead to uncertainty.
“Even on a morning of a game they can be shut out,” said Dunn, referring to a similar experience last summer.
“It can be difficult to select teams and it puts strain on the club volunteers.”
But Dunn said the resilience of country people had been impressive in responding to those challenges.
“You just plan as best you can,” he said.
Dunn said he had no concern about a potential fall in registration numbers.
“Last year we had pretty good numbers and this year might even be better,” he said.
There has not been much a preseason for cricketers in the Millicent, Naracoorte, and Tatiara leagues, but Dunn said that was not out of the ordinary.
Some players will attend football presentation nights and then go out and have a hit of cricket.
“I’m not sure even in normal years there’s much a preseason,” Mr Dunn said.
“Everyone’s excited and we just want to get a clean run at it [without COVID-19 forcing weeks to be abandoned].”
Victoria’s country region of Shepparton has been dogged by COVID-19 positive cases.
The city still has anxiety about exposure to the virus.
Cricket Shepparton and Cricket Victoria are yet to finalise the upcoming cricket schedule. Initially, the local competitions were going to begin on November 13, but they could start a week earlier due to improved vaccination numbers.
“Our junior numbers are still really strong,” Old Students Cricket Club junior coordinator Vince Gagliardi said.
“But we might be a bit down on last year.”
The 2020/21 season benefited from coming out of lockdown, with parents looking for activities for their children.
This year will be slightly different in Shepparton.
Gagliardi said the local league would usually be allowed to run introductory clinics in primary schools, attracting “new registrations”.
“I would hope that would improve but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.
Old Students Cricket Club would normally have three under 12 teams and two under 14 teams, as well as an under 16 side.
Gagliardi said he expected there to be fewer teams due to families wanting to go away for holidays when lockdowns were over.
“They might want to go up to the (Murray) river or even interstate to see family that they haven’t been able to see for a long time,” he said.
Under 16 teams might also be threatened by the fixture of shorter games.
Gagliardi said he was worried that if junior matches were all turned into one-day fixtures (25-over games, instead of 45-over games played over two days) kids might be put off.
“There is some talk that some clubs won’t have under 16 teams,” he said.
“And the better players won’t play in the mornings — they’ll play in the afternoons [with the senior grades].”
Sydney’s eastern suburbs
Under the NSW out-of-lockdown roadmap, community sport will resume when the state reaches the 80 per cent double-vaccination milestone.
Right now, cricketers are free to practice in groups of 20.
Premier League cricket and junior competitions in Sydney are preparing to unwrap the new balls in three weeks.
Easts Cricket Club has five grades in the city’s major competition, in addition to 60 children’s teams.
Vice-president Peter Lovitt said he was hopeful the club could maintain its 1,000-strong membership base this summer.
“We’ll be easily able to field a full complement of five (Premier Grade) teams, plus extras,” he said.
“At this point we haven’t had any negative feedback. All things going well we should get back to our 900 junior registrations as we did last year.
“They’re itching to get out and play. I think we got to a (Australian Rugby League Commission chairman) Peter V’Landy’s moment where we just put a stake in the ground and [said] ‘let’s go’.”
A major lesson from the 2020/21 season was to be flexible with scheduling.
“First and second grade started on time [last year],” Lovitt said.
“Threes (third grade), fours (fourth grade), and fives (fifth grade) started a month later to allow the winter sports an ability to extend their seasons.
“The lower grades played all one-dayers to compress [the season].
“We are [starting] later this year, everyone.”
Clubs have been told to prepare for November 6 as a start date.
The Sydney Cricket Association has issued a rule that all players over 16 must be vaccinated.
“That includes volunteers, club officials, match umpires,” Lovitt said.
Lovitt said there had been no push-back from players who wanted to participate without getting the jab.
Another unseen challenge is the work needed to get turf wickets ready. Until now, curators have been allowed to perform general maintenance but not wicket preparation.
Like many clubs, Easts has established a COVID-19 sub-committee to manage training and game-day protocols.
“I can’t commend enough the efforts of all the volunteers at our cricket club, and I’m sure it’s applied around Australia,” Lovitt said.
“Cricket’s hard enough as a sport to manage and run on its own with the complexities of COVID protocols.
“No-one’s shown any form of resentment or negativity to the new world. In fact, they’ve embraced it and everyone’s just getting on with it.”
Tasmanian community cricket is about to suffer its first COVID-19 setback since March 2020, when finals were scrapped.
Hobart’s snap three-day lockdown will halt competitions across the city (it was expected rain might prevent play anyway).
Last season, cricket in Tasmania was uninterrupted.
Kingborough Knights District Cricket Club president Jeff Ross said Tasmanians had been lucky.
“We can’t complain,” he said.
“We just had to make sure we meet all the return to play guidelines.”
Last year, parents had to buy their children extra equipment (pads, helmets, gloves) because there was a ban on sharing kits.
Kingborough has three men’s teams, three women’s teams, and up to 16 junior sides.
Mr Ross said membership was strong.
“They certainly haven’t dropped off,” he said.
Senior grade cricket began two weeks ago.
It is hoped the lockdown is short and cricket can resume next week.