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Thursday, 28 May 2020 21:10

Cricket in the time of COVID-19

“Pandemic Stopped Play” - certainly it has felt like that has been the case, as cricket grounds around the world have been forced into an unnatural summer hibernation, lying unused under blue skies and sunshine.

But as we know, cricket is more than just 22 people running (or standing!) around a field every Saturday or Sunday. It’s more than high-paid stars of the IPL and Big Bash, more than Ashes heroes and players from “plucky” (hard working, passionate, sacrificing) associate nations. It’s more than a gaggle of under 9s indiscriminately chucking tennis balls at each other, or hundreds of children in schools across the world having the chance to delight in a game that values respect and fair play above all else.

Cricket is about the communities that develop and grow around it. It is the thread that connects these communities together, so a young player learning the game for the first time in rural Kasese, Uganda, has as much in common with any player in any country across the world – in urban Nairobi, Kenya, in Durham, Croydon, Manchester. In refugee camps in Lebanon, in mountainous Nepal, in Brazil, Cameroon, South Africa. They all share a common language and common purpose in cricket. Each will recognise the bat, the ball, the coach, the player. The administrator, the supporter. The sourcing of the ground, the maintenance of it. The formation of the team. The individual within the group - taking responsibility while playing for your team.

And so these threads of connection have vibrated with equal parts solidarity, frustration, and memes as we negotiate the COVID-19 pandemic. The CWB Ambassador WhatsApp group has been awash with the cricket-based “Would you rather…?” graphics that will be familiar to anyone in similar WhatsApp groups anywhere, as well as sharing favourite clips and classic photos. We even found out that a player who had started under the tutelage of Ambassador Eric in Rwanda had moved to Kenya and was now on the books of Kenyan Ambassador Nicholas - the bonds of cricket continuing to strengthen and solidify. Having that ongoing connection and reassurance that the cricket family and community is still there, despite the temporary absence of the game itself, has, I think, been of great comfort to all of us. The community is enduring, and cricket will come back when it is safe and right to do so.

And indeed we are beginning to see the first tentative steps back to playing some kind of cricket. In Rwanda, coaches can deliver sessions to 2 players a day, while maintaining social distancing, and our Ambassador Emmy has been sending some great photos of the backyard netting he has rigged up to help keep his practices safe. In Cameroon, Ambassador Jules can deliver small-group sessions, and back here in the UK I know many of our volunteers and supporters will be waking up with sore shoulders as the limited return of net practice and 1:1 coaching brings bowling arms out of their cricketing furlough. Many others, though, are still waiting. In Jordan our Right to Play partners are still waiting to resume the SOS programme, while Uganda’s lockdown remains strictly in place. 

 

 

So what will come next? Certainly, cricket won’t be back to “normal” for a long time yet. It seems a million miles away before we can again talk of club cricket between 22 players, let alone festivals of hundreds of children playing cricket together. We’ve got a lot to work out between now and then, but the reassuring thing is all of those communities around cricket? We will all be trying to work it out together. Maybe at different rates, and maybe with different solutions that work in our contexts, but it is a journey we will not have to travel alone. 

I personally draw great strength from this - not just by knowing that others are having to negotiate the same challenges, but also by knowing that the efforts that I put in, small though they are - sending round 2-person practice ideas to the women I would normally be coaching, or sharing videos of the one-person games you can play in a yard or at home - are contributing to the strengthening those bonds of community. So friends - keep sharing! Keep sharing your challenges, your ideas and your solutions. Keep talking. Keep connecting. Our cricket communities will be stronger for it.

 

Sara Begg
Monitoring and Evaluation, Cricket Without Boundaries

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