The Welsh cricket season is over and not many players, coaches and spectators will want to see another one like it again in a hurry. At Mountain Ash, the major debates were not whether to bat first or field, but whether they would even have a cricket club at the end of it, as Graham Thomas discovered.
It says a lot about the disrupted cricket season that the biggest stir made by Mountain Ash this summer involved a player’s home-made pavilion.
Months spent waiting for the season to begin, finally brought reward when the club – who play in South East Wales Cricket League Division Four – managed to play some socially-distanced fixtures for the last few weeks of the campaign.
Before that, the only bats drawing much attention were the ones used as door handles by Nigel Williams for his magnificent home-made pavilion.
The building – which featured on BBC Radio Wales during lockdown and was a big hit on social media – summed up the spirit of resilience at the club.
So, too, has been their determination to survive the financial impact of Covid-19, which has been helped by a grant awarded by Sport Wales from the Be Active Wales Fund.
The cash enabled Mountain Ash to make up for lost players’ match fees as well as the disappearance of money from their normally money-spinning six-a-side tournaments that this year had to be shelved.
“Essentially, we have had no income at all this year, which makes it very difficult to operate a cricket club,” says player-treasurer Jonathan Cross.
“We have had very much a makeshift season of only six weeks in the end, but there are still expenses to cover when you run a first and a second team.
“We didn’t want to charge the normal members’ fees for the season, because it’s been so disrupted and we were mindful that paying out money might just put people off.
“The vital thing for us was to keep cricket going and keep people keen to stay on as members. We wanted everyone to keep interested in playing cricket this year.
“But when we did resume playing, there were obviously expenses to be met – insurance, the costs associated with sanitisers and the need for social distancing and hygiene.
“It all meant we needed extra crickets pads, bats and gloves because there couldn’t be the same level of direct contact among the players for the usual changeover of equipment.
“So, the grant from the Be Active Wales fund came in really useful and has enabled us to get some of the things we needed and to keep providing cricket.”
Mountain Ash run two teams – the first X1 play in division four and the seconds compete in division seven.
But regular league matches went the way of much else in this coronavirus-disrupted summer and the club had to make do with a series of games played among local clubs in a mini-league.
A final placing of second in their table got them through to the semi-finals, but their main victory was simply keeping the club going in trying times, when even the match experience itself felt strange and unfamiliar.
“It’s been weird,” admits Jonathan. “Normally, when a bowler takes a wicket then everyone will rush up to congratulate him. But all that usual close-in, high fives have gone.
“We sanitized hands every six overs in the field and you can’t give a sweater or anything else to the umpire or anything like that.
There have been some impressive Man Caves/Outdoor Bars being built during lockdown but MACC life member Nigel Williams’s garden Cricket pavilion is simply outstanding 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/zNTT24aAyb
— Mountain Ash Cricket (@mountainashcc) June 21, 2020
“Then, after the game, we used to go into the clubhouse and have a drink and socialise with the other team. We’ve had none of that usual mixing. It’s been, play the match, say goodbye, and then people would get in their cars and go off. So, it’s been very different.”
Like many sports clubs throughout Wales, Mountain Ash share some facilities with those of other sports. In their case, the clubhouse is actually the home of Mountain Ash Rugby Football Club and when that facility was unable to open, the cricketers had nowhere to go.
But the players that bumped elbows and drank a quick bring-your-own post-match drink on the boundary rope are determined to return next spring when they’ll hope for a different kind of season.
“We’re hopeful about next year,” adds Jonathan. “The main issue it to keep players involved and wanting to play. If we can feel there’s a proper season again around the corner, then people will want to play cricket.”