Mark Wood fears that English cricket risks missing out on its next generation of heroes in the wake of last summer’s World Cup triumph, after the sport’s hopes of a prompt resumption at grassroots level were dealt a blow by comments from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
Addressing the House of Commons on Tuesday to announce the easing of the UK’s lockdown measures, Johnson caught the ECB off-guard with his suggestion that the regular handling of a cricket ball made it a “natural vector of disease” in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And while that statement will have no bearing on England’s bio-secure Test series against West Indies, which is due to begin at the Ageas Bowl on July 8, it means that cricket clubs up and down the country face a further anxious wait to get their delayed seasons up and running, having initially been led to believe that an early-July start date was on the cards.
“It is disappointing to hear that,” said Wood, who was speaking at the launch of Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week, an event that encourages children to get active through cricket in spite of the lockdown.
“Cricket clubs across the country are desperate for some cricket, just to keep that cricket club alive. I know that my home club, Ashington, are itching to get back out there and the junior section that produced me, Steve Harmison and Ben Harmison, we don’t want to lose them to other sports that they can be allowed to play.”
Wood’s comments echoed those of the former England captain, Michael Vaughan, who wrote in the Daily Telegraph that Johnson’s statement – in response to a question from Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells – was a “hammer blow” to the game at club level.
“On July 4 I can take my son’s cricket team to a restaurant but they can’t play a game of cricket,” Vaughan wrote. “That cannot be right. If the game does not start soon then we can rule out the rest of the summer. If that happens we can say goodbye to a lot of players who have now taken up golf or other sports.”
As Wood acknowledged, safety first is “paramount” in the current climate. However, he felt that some of the social-distancing and hygiene measures that have already been applied at international level – and which resulted in the ECB on Wednesday confirming that 702 tests for Covid-19 at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford had come back as negative – would surely be applicable to the lower levels of the game.
“The ECB are still desperate to try to get recreational cricket back up and running soon rather than later,” Wood said. “Cricket took its time on the backburner, rightly so with everything else going on, but you just feel that with pubs and restaurants opening, I don’t see how cricket is so far away from that.
“Being a non-contact sport, the examples we’re trying to show at international level, there must be something they can do around the ball at grassroots level, because we don’t want to miss out on the next Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer.”
An ECB spokesperson said that there had been further “positive dialogue” with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on Wednesday afternoon regarding the return of the recreational game, adding that the Sports Minister, Nigel Huddleston, “has assured us that positive news will be with us soon”.
In the meantime, Wood hopes that he and his fellow Chance to Shine ambassadors, including Heather Knight, Michael Vaughan, Charlotte Edwards and Devon Malcolm, can inspire young cricketers by less conventional means during National Cricket Week – including through his own initiative “Strictly Come Catching”, which involves throwing a ball in the air and doing a dance before catching it.
“Those juniors that are potentially missing out going to their local club, there are still activities for them to do,” Wood said. “I know it’s a bit more virtual, but that’s the best that we can do at the minute. With cricket on the horizon, I think it is a great initiative. My dancing was top drawer and I’m hoping someone can beat mine!”
Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week works with the charity Chance to Shine to support and grow the grassroots of the game in schools and communities. Join in at www.chancetoshine.org/ncw20