Friday, 23 April 2021

Clubs agree to merge divisions

HENLEY Cricket Club will return to competitive action tomorrow (Saturday).

The first and second division of the Home Counties Premier Cricket League will be amalgamated and teams will be playing localised pink-ball matches of 40 overs per side.

The top two teams from each league will go forward to the semi-finals and eventually a final for the chance to win a trophy.

The first team will begin their revised season away at Aston Rowant, starting at noon.

Henley has won the division for the last three years but this season, which was supposed to start in May, will now feature a minimum of eight group games per team.

Should they fail to qualify for the semi-finals, Henley’s season would end with a home game against High Wycombe on September 5.

The second and third teams are waiting for confirmation from the Thames Valley League as to how their season will look.

Chairman Brian Kenworthy hopes the second half of the fixture list will go ahead as planned, allowing for an extension to the end of the season.

He said: “The Home Counties have jumbled up the teams from the first and second division and created groupings to play localised cricket.

“It is effectively just a fun competition just to get cricket going again. Everybody who plays cricket wants the game to go ahead and it is wonderful that we can go ahead.

“There will be slight tweaks to the format and you won’t have your traditional teas because people will have to bring their own food and drink with them.

“I think because the ECB is encouraging less travel they have tried to localise games. There is quite a geographical spread in the league, from Banbury to Wokingham to Henley to High Wycombe.

“In theory, some games might be less difficult than others, because we might be playing a side that were from division two, although that might not be the case on the day.”

The ECB released further guidance after the Government allowed 11-a-side matches to take place from Saturday, with measure in place to reduce the risk of infection.

This includes limiting the overall group size, including coaches and officials, to 30 people. Players should do a personal check prior to all activity and not take part if they show any symptoms of coronavirus.

They should remain socially distanced at all times and minimise handling of the ball, limiting contact as it makes its way back to the bowler.

Batsmen should run in distinct lanes to ensure they are not within 2m of the bowler, or their batting partner.

Clubs should keep a record of attendance, including contact details, to support the NHS test and trace system.

Mr Kenworthy said the club had hoped to play 50-over matches, although he appreciates extra time will be needed to allow for drinks breaks and sanitising equipment.

He added: “The Thames Valley League haven’t been in touch yet to confirm what will happen, but our expectation is that they will play the second half of the season.

“It was easier to shuffle the pack with the Home Counties fixtures to create localised matches. But the problem with the Thames Valley League is they have the better part of 20 divisions and it is a lot more work. It may be that they stick to the original fixtures.”

Players returned to training last month with strict measures in place as they waited for Boris Johnson to lift the ban on recreational cricket.

Many hours have gone into keeping the pitches at the Brakspear Ground in top condition during lockdown in the hope that the season will be able to go ahead in some form.

Club president John Nelson added: “It is lovely to be back. It has been a long time and it has been very frustrating. Everyone has been so patient and I feel for the players, although we have engaged in socially-distanced practise under the guidelines, but there is nothing like the real thing.”

Mr Nelson wrote to Henley MP John Howell before the ban on recreational cricket was lifted.

He did not understand why it would be unsafe for cricket to return after Boris Johnson said the ball was a “natural vector of disease” in the House of Commons.

Mr Nelson added: “It is a huge relief after all of the delay. People don’t understand how important sport and leisure is and I am so pleased there is some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Fundraising has been an area of concern for Henley, due to the loss of revenue from car parking during Henley Royal Regatta.

But the club received a £10,000 grant from Wokingham Borough Council. Club captain Michael Roberts also raised more than £5,000, running the equivalent of a marathon, by doing laps of the ground at Matson Drive.

His father, Michael Roberts Snr, is the secretary for the Home Counties Premier Cricket League.

He said: “If there is a sport that can work in a socially distanced context, it is cricket and its return is a victory for common sense.

“The season will be extended into September so that the top four sides and the next four sides can respectively play for a cup and a plate unique to 2020, thus retaining a competitive edge, despite not the having relegation or promotion or conventional championships.

“It will almost be cricket as we know it, with a few tweaks to comply with Government and ECB guidelines and, of course, public safety of all our people and everyone connected with the sport and the wider public remains the number one priority at all times.”

• The full fixture list for Henley first team is as follows: Aston Rowant (A) — July 18, Buckingham Town (H) — July 25, Datchet (A) — August 1, Harefield (H) — August 8, Wokingham (A) — August 15, Finchampstead (H) — August 22, Oxford Downs (A) — August 29, High Wycombe (H) — September 5.

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