At the start of the summer many recreational clubs wondered if they would play at all but the lay-off appears to have made players of all ages even keener to get on the field.
Richard Spiller focuses on two clubs in the county.
England’s World Cup triumph and an exciting Ashes series seemed the perfect platform for promoting the game and enticing new players of all ages.
That made the late start of this season, caused by the world health crisis, all the more frustrating for recreational clubs with some fearing for their future.
Yet the delay seems to have sparked an explosion of interest, clubs around the county reporting a sharp upsurge in numbers.
Some Surrey Championship clubs put six teams out the weekend before the start of their shortened league programme.
No less dramatic a rise has come at Salfords, who play in the Surrey Downs League.
“Normally at this time of year we would only be getting out two league sides on Saturday and one on a Sunday. With only about 27 players, some would play both days of the weekend,” reckons spokesman Sanjay Patel.
“But two weeks running we’ve had 44 different players including juniors, which has meant we can put out three Saturday sides.
“For us that’s a massive achievement because, unlike some of the larger clubs, we are a village side and not situated in a large community.”
Patel explained: “We’ve seen a number of parents playing again, with their children in our junior sections, and have got a rise of 10% of new members locally at senior level.”
Finding suitable second grounds for third and fourth teams to play, sharing the load with headquarters grounds, is one of the hardest battles for many clubs. Salfords have been working hard on improving their second ground at Netherne, who no longer have their own village side, but Patel feels interest there is being rekindled.
Given former Surrey wicketkeeper Jon Batty is one of the residents, they could yet have a handy side developing.
The start of cricket’s return came in early June, with one-to-one coaching, and Patel was delighted by the reaction. Since then junior numbers have expanded and the plan is to play and train through August and maybe into September, not least with several schools now considering playing cricket early in the autumn term rather than going straight into winter sports.
It’s boom time for Streatham & Marlborough as well, where the summer camps they are staging through the five week school holiday period quickly sold out.
“It’s the fourth year we’ve staged them and the numbers have been going up steadily,” says David Cook, lead administrator of the club’s junior section.
“We could have gone over the 30 per day we had last year quite easily because the courses got taken up very quickly, without even advertising them on social media.
“But we’re very keen to ensure we stay within the capacity should it rain and we need to move things inside. It’s pretty intensive stuff from 9am to 4pm from Monday to Thursday, so our coaches need Friday off so that they can be fit to play at the weekend!”
The surge in interest has been reflected throughout the club, the women’s section thriving and now with 90 senior men, a situation which has meant matches needing to be rationed.
“We’ve had six Saturday sides for a few years and were planning to run a seventh team in leagues this summer, before Covid intervened,” said Cook.
“So we’re running seven, in leagues and friendlies now, plus Sunday games and it means we’re having to share the cricket around.
“We’re following the social distancing guidance very strictly and spent about £500 on hand sanitizer for use by the players and around the club.”