Essay, 2021

Village Cricket Leaves Lockdown

Marcus Berkmann

My team of crocks and incompetents, the Rain Men, would normally expect to play around 20 games a year, winning at least one. But in 2020, Covid-19 struck. We were all kept indoors for months, watching our DVDs of the 2005 Ashes over and over again. Games were cancelled, and every email referred to "these strange times".

I quite enjoyed not having to get 11 players out every Sunday, and had several more hours in the day to do some real work. But then lockdown was eased, cricket became feasible, and I had to rearrange the fixture list in a rush. We are a travelling team, utterly reliant on the hospitality and good cheer of opponents who will beat us, usually by eight wickets. But with a little nifty footwork, I was able to put together a revised list of 14 games, of which we eventually played all but one.

There were severe limitations on behaviour, many of which seemed faintly ridiculous as time wore on. Because so much hand sanitising had to be done, games started half an hour earlier than usual, and sometimes earlier than that. Pavilions were closed, except for access to the loos, because viruses, while rife in dressing-rooms, prefer to give the lavatorial facilities a miss. Teas could not be provided, in case someone inadvertently ingested the Sandwich of Doom.

We tended to follow the lead of our hosts, some of whom used hand sanitiser in industrial quantities, some of whom did not. But everyone was more relaxed by the end of the season than at the start, as it became clear cricket was a sport for which the term social distancing could have been invented. I have been social distancing down at third man for the best part of 40 years.

Our squad, if you can call them that, comprise around 25 to 30 men (and one woman), of whom very few are still as young and vibrant as Wilfred Rhodes the last time he played Test cricket. Last season, maybe a third of our squad turned out very rarely or not at all, while other, more occasional, cricketers started to play more often.

So the team altered, or mutated, in the course of the shortened summer, and became more tight-knit than before - and, actually, friendlier as well. Like most cricket teams (because it's the sort of game that attracts them), we have had a few troublemakers over the years, and one or two out-and-out lunatics who have done well to escape the clutches of the funny farm. But none of these people appeared last year.

As well as being more amiable, the team became better at playing the game. We won two matches, and might have won more. I myself have given up playing because I have developed a tremor in both hands (not Parkinson's, I'm happy to report), which made me drop catches and get out for nought even more than before. But I often go along because I love cricket, and the team are my friends, and I tend to take a long walk in the surrounding countryside while they are fielding.

What keeps them all going, I realise, is the knowledge that time is short, that they may injure themselves tomorrow beyond repair, and that every game could be their last. We are all driven by the dying of the light, and in our case we are now 15-watt bulbs. And it's better than playing golf. Anything's better than playing golf.

© John Wisden & Co