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Full parks, pubs open again, but cricket pitches remain empty

Full parks, pubs open again, but cricket pitches remain empty

The English cricket world is angry that all the lockdown easing is passing it by.

David Walker sits along the cricket field, in front of the pavilion, in the sunshine. He is wearing the off-white shirt of Chelsfield Cricket Club. His bat, held in one piece by plastic tape, stands idly beside him. 'I should have been standing there, batting, scoring runs,' he says, pointing to the field where a woman is walking her dog. The 70-year-old amateur cricketer displays a yellowed team photo from 1963, when he made his debut as a thirteen-year-old, under the tutelage of his dad Jim. 'Since that year I have played cricket every summer, except now. It's not allowed by Boris. I don't think our prime minister likes cricket, do you?'

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In announcing further lockdown relaxations, Boris Johnson aroused the ire of cricket-loving England on Tuesday. While pubs, hotels, libraries, hairdressers open from next Saturday, daisies, and dandelions continue to grow unhindered on England's thousands of cricket pitches. The fact that sports such as golf and tennis were already permitted at the beginning of June increases the annoyance, not to mention the full stores, beaches, and city parks that can be admired daily. And then cricket, which involves thirteen players and two umpires on an immense field, would not be allowed?

There has been much criticism, from the likes of England captain Joe Root, from the Oxfordshire club where Johnson is honorary president, and from no fewer than five former Secretaries of State for Sport. The Daily Telegraph, the newspaper of rural England, has started the Bring Back Club Cricket campaign. This campaign was supported by many websites Free Bets Sites. After all, this is not just any sport, but summer culture. No village is complete on Sundays without men and women in white throwing, hitting, and catching balls on the local common, punctuated by lunch and tea breaks. Followed in the afternoon by a third inning at the pub.

Such is the case in Chelsfield, a village at the foot of the North Downs. Cricket has been played here at least since 1731, as a recently unearthed article from The Grub Street Journal from that year proved. There was even a tavern here called The Eleven Cricketers, lore has it. Now the Five Bells is the village pub, but it too is closed, as is the church of St. Martin of Tours. The only sporting activity in the village, the birthplace of conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott, is provided by passing touring cyclists.

No one knows what exactly moved the prime minister to prioritize pubs over cricket. In the House of Commons, he had spoken of the ball as "a transmitter of disease. He possibly envisioned the habit of bowlers smearing mucus on the ball - sometimes even licking it - in order to rub an edge smooth with it. With that, you can give a ball effect. That could easily be banned, as could throw the ball around in the run-up to a new pitch. 'You can disinfect the ball after every over, six balls thrown,' says Walker, 'stronger with that disinfectant you can polish the ball nice and smooth.'

Entirely cricket-free, the English summer will not be. On July 8, in an empty Rose Bowl, Hampshire, the first Test match between England and the West Indies begins. Players must unlearn old habits. Bowlers, for example, can no longer give their jersey and hat to the umpire for safekeeping before a pitch. The national league begins in a month. Cricket clubs are considering registering as pubs with pitches so they can open the canteen and admit spectators. Inter-county matches are more likely to draw hundreds rather than thousands of spectators, so keeping a distance is not a problem here.

The endless lockdown can cause particular problems for amateur clubs. 'About five or six years ago we almost went under,' says Chelsfield board member Naeem Ahad, a former major in the Pakistan Air Force, 'we need players and sponsors, but then of course we have to play. Fortunately, we don't have rental costs or other high expenses. Ahad, who was seriously ill with covid-19 for weeks in March, is eager to get back on the field. 'The same goes for other players. Every time they call me asking when we can go again. The patience is running out.'

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The hope is that Boris Johnson will succumb to the pressure, not only from the cricketing world but also from the Labour opposition and his own group. For English cricket, the situation is extra painful because this season was supposed to be a time to reap the benefits of the national team's recent successes, reported 'It feels like a huge void,' says Walker, a retired meteorologist, 'I've done plenty of chores and mowed the cricket field every few weeks, but nothing beats being on the field with my mates and my son. I'm aiming for a return in late summer. You'll see it rains.'

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