I heard it long before the first white dots moving around Harden Cricket Club’s outfield came into view.
An LBW appeal echoed through the trees of St Ives Estate in this leafy quadrant of BD16. Half a minute later, a ‘tock’ of a cricket bat striking leather reached my ears, somewhere off to the left.
For those of us who pine for club cricket as soon as it concludes in September, its return is a moment to cherish.
The 2022 season really is a landmark after two unprecedented years for recreational cricket, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
No more restrictions or cleaning your vector of disease with an anti-bacterial wipe.
Club cricket has returned to whatever counts for ‘normality’ these days.
The two-mile journey from Three Rise Locks in Bingley reminded me of my allergy to hills. A walk I’ve done many times, I perspired my way up to the top plateau that offers breathtaking views over Bingley.
The black Damart chimney and mill building is a reference point, as the Leeds-Liverpool Canal snakes past Five Rise Locks. Up here, there are signs of growth after thousands of trees were felled to prevent further disease in Betty’s Woods.
In time, oak, hazel, hawthorn, birch and dog rose will tower around me but today, on a sunny afternoon with the mercury nudging into the late teens, the view is one to savour.
Half an hour later, I wind my way down to Harden Cricket Club where their seconds are at home to Colton Institute in Division Six of the Aire-Wharfe Cricket League.
Despite the steady drone of Bank Holiday traffic on Harden Road that flanks the cricket club on one side, it is a very pleasant place to watch my first game of the season.
Wooden benches run along the length of the wall that acts as a barrier, with the B6429 on the other side.
Here, the cricket is framed by fields and trees leading up to St Ives Estate. On the far side, you can squeeze through and walk up the hill to a bench – which I do of course.
What happens between overs? Here’s a quiet minute of a captain setting his field as white dots manoeuvre around this green slab of BD16. Strangely calming. Look out for the captain’s throw back to the bowler. We’ve all done that… 😁 #clubcricket pic.twitter.com/r2LJurLqpY— Cricket Yorkshire (@cricketyorks) April 18, 2022
You get the full splendour up here. The noise from the road is drowned out by the fielders encouraging each other, a batsman calling for a run and the cacophony of birdsong around me.
Harden are in the final act of racking up 246-7 in their 45 overs.
If I might be so bold, the opposition looks a little knackered; the first game is always a shock to the system. I generally took a month to reacquaint my body with the particular strains of bowling a cork-encased orb at another human being.
But, Colton Institute plug away, despite the indignity of an all-run four as errant throws fizz past a despairing wicketkeeper.
A tumble of batsmen departures is a fitting conclusion for the fielding side. The innings break arrives and the wicket gets swept, rolled and the lines repainted.
Watching club cricket again in the sunshine knowing that a cricket tea was coming made me immeasurably happy.
I had checked in advance, via Harden’s Facebook page, because I’m a professional and take such things seriously.
My feelings on cricket teas are well documented on this website for those who read it regularly. Their absence due to Covid has been keenly felt.
Yes, I can eat cake like a Giant Redwood going through a sawmill. But it’s more the symbolism of what cricket teas represent; that the Covid nightmare of the last two years is behind us, if not entirely.
Then I saw the strawberry cheesecake…
I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight…Mrs Cricket Yorkshire might have something to say about that – but it was a thing of beauty.
For £3.50, I was able to take a blue plastic plate and shovel a piece alongside some curly fries, cheese and onion sandwiches and a Bakewell tart for good measure.
High in carbs and gratification, a mite low on vitamins – although I definitely inhaled a strawberry.
Where else can you combine an array of food that wouldn’t ever meet on a plate together?
Talking to the ladies serving, they have been doing cricket teas at Harden for 42 years. They missed doing them during Covid but normal service has thankfully been resumed.
It was a treat to begin the season at Harden, a friendly club who ply their trade in the Aire-Wharfe Cricket League. I am fortunate that I can walk to 10 cricket clubs locally.
I found myself looking at the cricket match almost as if for the first time. Noticing – and relishing – the mannerisms, field settings, the ball being shined, a long barrier on creaky knees, the umpire holding up play to allow for the sightscreen to be moved.
There are endless quirks that only happen in cricket and it was satisfying to readjust the senses and tune back in.
Cricket Yorkshire Match Photos
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Phil Sharples says
I too love the tradition John. But as someone who runs a league and is still actively involved in a club the burden of committing to do teas with a huge shortfall in volunteers means that if anything has to go by the wayside, instead of umpiring, scoring or groundwork its teas.
There is also the added issue that food is much more expensive now and in order to make a profit worth the effort we are starting to get towards charging a fiver. So that’s a fiver to play, a fiver in teas…adding to a burden where some folk say I can’t afford to play. It’s a conversation that sits amongst all the others now around our recreational game.
John Fuller says
Hey Phil, good to hear from you. I do appreciate both sides to this. As a spectator, it was a welcome return for teas but there’s the effort and cost, as you point out, for club volunteers.
I guess each league votes on it and clubs decide before each season and keep them, ditch them or allow clubs to decide themselves on a fixture-by-fixture basis.
I’ll be up at Queensbury at some point this season so no need for home baking, the chance to buy a brew will be fine! Enjoy your season and look forward to catching up.
Stephen Jordan says
Yet another local cricketing conundrum, I hear and agree with a lot of what Phil says, it’s a topic often discussed in committees up and down the country no doubt. Add to that allergies, dietary requirements, meeting health standards for preparation and then throw in the weather for good luck, it all feels too difficult, BUT,,,,,, its part of the wonderful game, it’s a break for the Umps and Scorers who have sat their for 45/50 overs and as you say John where else can you mix, branston pickle (other pickles are available) with coleslaw, beetroot, crisps and carrot cake all on the same plate !!
Our first game of the season on Saturday we welcomed great support from Illingworth CC, the majority of spectators home and away fully supporting us, the home club. Buying refreshments from the kitchen and both alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks & snacks from the bar. The ground and balcony had a great buzz about it, quite a few looking forward to welcoming back Garry Fellows on his return to amateur cricket after several great years playing at the highest levels and others just wanting to get back to watching cricket in a normal manner after a couple of years of restrictions, I’m pleased to report there were no incidents of players licking the balls !
Everyone was in good spirit and the opposition team stayed for a drink or two after the game, including the young lads coming through the ranks, so it doesn’t have to be alcoholic, which was fantastic.
Maybe we should start to look for ‘reasons to do something’ and not ‘reasons not to’ maybe we can all play a part in helping each other out, Spectators support the home club if you’re visiting by spending a few quid in the kitchen or bar, doesn’t have to be a lot. Players buy a tea and stay for at least one drink with the opposition, the majority of cricket subs are much less than football/rugby subs so spread that cost out a bit.
Offer an incentive to a volunteer, doesn’t need to be payment, put their name on social media with a photo (if they agree to it of course) and say how grateful you are, say thank you, offer them a free drink, or maybe even free subs if they volunteer to do 2 or more teas, make them feel they are an integral part of the club because they are.
I’m not naive enough to know we wont get Saturdays/Sundays like that every week but if you get that for half the season its a start.
Small steps, larger pieces of cake ?
Sowerby Bridge CC
John Fuller says
Lots of good points Steve and ‘Small steps, larger pieces of cake’ might be a future headline on Cricket Yorkshire. If you serve me Branston pickle with coleslaw and beetroot all on the same plate at SBCC then there will be a riot 🙂 Glad there was a decent turnout for Gary Fellows’ return to the Halifax League. I’ve said for years that helping cricket clubs with volunteer recruitment is not something that is ever given a focus by the ECB. It applies to everything including doing teas. Good luck for the season, hope to see you later in the year.