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Net sessions resume at Cookham Dean CC but doubts remain over reduced Thames Valley Cricket League season

Leather on willow, one of the more familiar and reassuring sounds of the summer, returned to cricket clubs in the area this week, with the reopening of net sessions at clubs including Cookham Dean.

Cookham Dean, who were demoted into the Thames Valley Cricket League last season, were one of the first clubs to recommence net sessions following the relaxation of government lockdown restrictions.

It’s not yet clear whether the club’s various teams will get to play competitively this summer – although plans have been pencilled in by the Thames Valley League for a truncated campaign with no promotion or relegation.

But, for now, the simple pleasure of being able to meet up with friends for a bat and a bowl is going someway towards filling the void left by the lack of competitive cricket.

Since Friday cricketers have been able to book slots to use the nets at Cookham Dean, with the club following health and safety advice from the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Strict rules are in place to ensure the club doesn’t unwittingly spread the virus between players and their families. A booking system is in place to limit the numbers using the nets at any one time and each session is also supervised to ensure social distancing is taking place.

Dave Brooks, a player at the club, expects 200 sessions to be booked in the first 10 days.

He said: “It’s a long way from normal, but this is perfect cricket weather and we’re absolutely making the most of it.

“The nets will be used from 9am to 7pm and it will be like that every day.

“The announcement from the ECB 10 days ago gave us the guidance to get the club up and running again.

“We have a booking system, hand sanitisers, we’re not sharing equipment and are covering all of the basics.

“The night beforehand we email to confirm their time slot and ask that everyone in the household is symptom free. If they don’t respond to that they’re not allowed to use the nets. We have three fixed nets on the site, and leave the middle one free to ensure we have a two metre gap. We’ve also got the cage, so we’ve got three nets going. That’s six people and the supervisor, so you’ve got plenty of space and scope to do that well.

“The uptake has been incredible. We’ll have 200 bookings in the first 10 days. It’s mainly been our u15s players and younger members. The bit I didn’t appreciate but do now is just how pleased they are to see their mates again. They’ve not been in school for eight weeks and have been chatting online, but then all of a sudden they can come and see their mates and play some cricket at the same time.”

The league season for the senior teams was supposed to get back underway on May 9, but the competition has been suspended indefinitely. That said the league’s honorary secretary Matthew Stevenson has written to all member clubs with its ‘optimistic’ proposals for a reduced campaign starting in mid-July.

The season would start from its mid-point and be a reduced nine-match programme with no promotion or relegation.

Should social distancing measures continue to be eased a round of friendly matches is pencilled in for Saturday, July 4, followed by the start of a truncated season on Saturday, July 11.

Stevenson admits it’s the most ‘optimistic scenario’, however, although Brooks hopes they’ll be able to play, he doesn’t necessarily expect it to be the case.

“If it were to happen there won’t be any promotion or relegation but you would be able to win a title,” he said. “I’m sure we all hope for that to be the case, but it’s probably fair to say that none of us expect it to be the case. Because a lot has to happen. At the moment two people from two households are allowed to play in the nets in a socially distanced manner. Over the course of six weeks that would have to change so that 25 people from 25 different households are able to mingle and play a match. It’s not impossible.

“People would have to turn up at the ground ready changed, we wouldn’t share kit, there would be no tea, no showers. You’d just turn up and play with a couple of minor modifications to the rules, with regards to wicket keepers standing near the stumps. It’s feasible, but it’s just a big leap from where we are at the moment. We hope we’ll be able to do it, but it might be beyond us.

“Anything could happen in the next six weeks for better or worse. We’ll just keep hoping, keep hitting in the nets and we’ll see what comes to pass.

“The World Health Organisation has said that it should be easier to get grassroots sports up and running. There’s a chance and we’ll do everything we can to make it happen, but I don’t think anyone in sports wants to take a risk and see their sport become the centre for any little cluster, so there will be some natural caution.”

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