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The work to put Welsh fire back into cricket

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This should have been the month when Welsh cricket clubs were taking centre stage, warmed by spring sunshine and the afterglow of last year’s unforgettable World Cup.

Instead, apart from those exercising alone or as families, the outfields are empty and the squares remain unused.

In fact, rather than hearing the sound of leather on willow for the first time as the recently appointed chief executive of Cricket Wales, Leisha Hawkins is listening to the noise of her own footsteps pounding the tarmac.

Having moved from London just before the sporting shutdown, the woman at the top of Welsh cricket has been running from her home in Cardiff to outlaying cricket clubs around the capital.

 

“It’s not as if I am able to meet anyone there properly, but at least I’m getting to know the clubs, what they look like and where they are,” she says.

“It was important to me to get out and see the grounds, learn where they are and appreciate how beautiful they are.”

So far, Penarth, Creigiau, St. Fagans and Cardiff Casuals cricket clubs have been ticked off the list and there are more to follow.

Those clubs – and others all across Wales – are waiting and hoping that some kind of cricket will be available for them at some point this summer, government regulations permitting.

But for now, it’s a case of every player trying to keep fit and rediscover their bat and ball skills as best they can in the garden or living room – inspired by last season’s heroic deeds by the likes of Ben Stokes.

There have been some imaginative efforts at back garden fielding on social media from club, county and Test players - some involving spectacular catches from pet dogs – as well as commentary classes, online coin toss challenges and quizzes.

Cricket Wales plan to upgrade the coaching section on their website, while Cardiff MCCU – the joint universities side – have been posting some impressive skills videos via their head coach Mark O’Leary.

The programmes aimed to introduce children to cricket and then keep them involved – All Stars Cricket and then Dynamos – have been unable to begin, but there are hopes that even if club cricket fixtures continue to be shelved, there could be some form of junior coaching that goes head, within the guidelines for social distancing.

The determination of cricket-lovers for the sport to get through this period has particularly impressed Leshia Hawkins in her short time in Wales.

“People have been staying in touch with each other on social media, with online apps like Zoom, there have been competitions and commentaries and there are some brilliant, creative people out there.

“The social side of cricket is huge and in Wales, what’s struck me already is the spirit and pride there is for the sport. It’s heart-warming.

 

“It means that when the time is right to come back, we haven’t lost the feel for the game and the affection for it, the camaraderie.”

For the clubs, it’s all about survival – making sure that their clubhouses and grounds are able to be maintained so that when the lockdown measure are released, cricket can resume.

Advice, in the form of helping to find funding, is available on the Cricket Wales website.

http://www.cricketwales.org.uk/news.aspx?nid=615&ss=

It includes guidance on how to get Welsh government small business support as well as the Sport Wales emergency fund that provides grants of up to 5,000.

https://www.sport.wales/content-vault/emergency-relief-fund/

“The number one priority is to protect cricket and to protect cricket clubs,” adds Leshia.

“This is where our resources are going to have to go. We have to have places to play when cricket comes back. So, that means looking after cricket fields and squares so that clubs can operate when cricket can start again. We are trying to get to the crux of what is important.”

When exactly that re-start happens at all levels in Wales remains unknown.

The Hundred – the new 100-ball tournament that was meant to launch this summer and will feature Cardiff-based Welsh Fire – has been postponed for a year.

But the England v Pakistan T20 international – due at Sophia Gardens on August 31 – remains uncertain, as does Glamorgan’s entire domestic season, and all the club league fixtures within Wales.

“After a home men’s World Cup and the profile that enjoyed thanks to players like Ben Stokes, cricket was really back on the map and part of the sporting mainstream,” says Leshia.

“The Hundred was about to start and grab more of the headlines and it’s just frustrating not to be able to build on those foundations.

“But we have to stay optimistic, stay positive, and be ready to play cricket again as soon as we can.”

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