Looking forward to golden summer on Yorkshire’s village cricket greens

ALL eyes and ears will be on the Prime Minister on Monday when he sets out his so-called road map for lifting lockdown.

GOLDEN RETURN? Action from Undercliffe against Woodlands in the Bradford League in August 2019. Picture: Steve Riding.

Among those particularly interested in what Boris Johnson has to say will be club cricketers everywhere as the countdown continues towards the new season.

Attention will be no more focused than in the Bradford League, where they are working towards the best-case scenario of starting their fixtures on April 17.

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Leagues throughout Yorkshire are also aiming to start on or around that time, although matters are necessarily fluid as we await confirmation from No 10 with the possibility of delayed starts and adapted play due to the Covid restrictions.

It's ours: Hanging Heaton's Ben Kholer-Cadmore lifts the Bradford League T20 trophy after victory over Bradford & Bingley last season. Picture: Ray Spencer

Keith Moss, the Bradford League president and a former Yorkshire County Cricket Club chairman, says that several options are being considered by his own league.

“The league has prepared three, if not four possible scenarios, from an immediate start in April to various abridged versions, if you like, during the season,” he said.

“Whether we can start in April remains to be seen; clubs have had no indoor nets, and obviously outdoor nets wouldn’t start until March and we’ve got to look at the practicalities of how quickly clubs can turn it on and play competitive cricket.

“But, God willing, I’m pretty sure there will be some meaningful cricket, and we now await government guidelines as to when, how and if we can press the button.

BRING IT BACK: Townville batter Harry Clewett drives through the covers in a BRadford League clash with Farsley. Picture: Steve Riding.

“There’s a great sense of optimism about the coming season, even though it is sure to bring a lot of pressures and issues to be tackled.

“However, I think that with ingenuity, planning and goodwill all round, we can get over any difficulties and the message at the Bradford League is – we’re in business, and we’re all looking forward to starting the season as soon as possible.”

That clubs throughout the county are still very much in business is tribute to the ingenuity, planning and goodwill already evinced after a difficult period for all concerned at recreational level.

It is players, rather than clubs, more likely to be lost to the sport going forward, a challenge for the smaller clubs, especially, due to people finding other things to do since the start of the pandemic, but a challenge felt even in a top level league like the Bradford League.

Keith Moss: Bradford League president.

“One of the most pressing things is to make sure that we don’t lose any players,” added Moss.

“I hear rumours of one or two going to play golf, that sort of thing, and I’m particularly keen on the retention of our junior players, which is the very lifeblood of our league and, indeed, any league.

“Whether clubs will have the same finance to pay players – well, that’s got to be seen.

“I’m sure with the attitude the clubs have adopted, they will be prudent in what they do.”

Although lockdowns have savaged the hospitality industry, impacting on bar takings in club cricket, for example, clubs have been able to tap into various grants to help keep the lights on.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has supported recreational cricket and, contrary to what might be expected, Moss said that some Bradford League clubs have had a strong financial year.

“One or two clubs, ironically, are reporting a very good financial year because they’ve had money coming in from government grants, furlough and all that sort of thing, with expenditure down to zero,” he said.

“All of our clubs have survived the past difficult months and been very sensible in good housekeeping, tackling the fixed overheads and getting rid of some of those, so financially they’re actually in pretty good order.

“Many of them have also been doing forward-planning. At Woodlands, for example, since the end of last season, they’ve totally relaid their outfield, which is a great move.

“At Sandal, one of the newer clubs in the league, they’ve published online a splendid newsletter going out to all their members, telling them about the club and what they’re doing, which is a very good effort on communication.

“Pudsey St Lawrence are looking long and hard at a possible extension to their clubhouse and likely have designs on rebuilding their pavilion, so, all in all, clubs have worked sensibly, battened down the hatches and got through.”

Moss, president emeritus at his beloved Pudsey St Lawrence, is especially keen that spectators get back into the swing of watching club cricket and that the numerous people who help to keep it going behind the scenes continue their unstinting efforts.

Aged 86, he remembers only too well the tremendous spirit that was shown after the Second World War when people flocked to games at all levels.

“We have to get spectators back into the habit of watching cricket, that’s very, very important,” he said.

“And the same with the committee workers, who are again the lifeblood of the clubs. We’ve got to harness all that talent back.

“My mind goes back to the war years. Professional cricket was dormant, the leagues were performing in their way during the war, and we were very lucky after the war.

“1946, from memory, was a poor summer, but 1947 I think we hit the jackpot. It was the most marvellous summer, weather brilliant, and crowds really came back to watch all manner of cricket.

“So the sincere wish is that we get a damn good summer because I’m quite certain that with the restrictions on wider travel we have a golden opportunity with good weather to play some good cricket and to get people back watching the game.

“So the message is one of optimism.

“We’ve had battles before. It’s going to require skill, dedication, but I believe we can deliver – and I think I speak for other leagues as well, who I hear are working very hard.

“Let’s hope that everything is in our favour and we can get back as early as possible in the season and have a damn good season.”

With men like Moss still steering the ship, and with the great history and tradition of club cricket in Yorkshire, there is a strong sense of optimism abroad.

A combination of a mass vaccination programme, falling death, hospitalisation and infection rates from Covid, allied to the onset of better weather (fingers crossed), will hopefully see a return to cricketing normality before too long.

As Moss maintained: “We must all work together to get the show on the road.”

The Bradford Cricket League story ...

THE original Bradford Cricket League was formed in September, 1902.

Twelve clubs competed for the inaugural title the following year, which was won by Shelf.

The league grew rapidly and when county cricket was cancelled during the Great War, many first-class cricketers took part, including the legendary Jack Hobbs and Sydney Barnes.

It was a similar story in World War Two, when practically all the Bradford League clubs had Test and county stars, sometimes several of them, with the games drawing considerable crowds.

Indeed, to list all the celebrated cricketers who have taken part in the Bradford League over the years would be to list many of the greatest players in the sport’s history.

Numerous Yorkshire players have featured and still do: none greater than former England captain Len Hutton, who represented Pudsey St Lawrence.

There are 48 clubs in the current Bradford Premier League, which was granted ECB Premier League status in 2016 when it merged with the Central Yorkshire League.

Last season’s competition saw Townville finish top of Premier East and Pudsey St Lawrence top of Premier West. However, their Premier Division final was cancelled due to a positive Covid test.

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