Cricket’s waiting game

Williamstown celebrate a wicket last season. Picture Mark Wilson

Tara Murray

Cricketers across Victoria are playing a wait and see game ahead of the cricket season.

Usually, at this time of year players are entering the final stages of pre-season, but this year it is one big unknown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions.

Associations are trying to plan seasons, but everything is still up in the air with late November likely to be the earliest start date.

Sydenham-Hillside’s committee is trying to focus on what it can control for its teams playing in the Victorian Turf and North West Metropolitan cricket associations.

Storm head of cricket Bob Kunesevic said the club had already had five different versions of a pre-season senior training plan.

“We’ve just been indicating to our playing base, just to be flexible,” he said.

“The boys are doing their extra work and they’re pretty close-knit. They’ve got the Strava app happening and they’re keeping themselves accountable.

“Obviously with the bat and ball it’s been pretty limited at the minute so the majority of stuff we’ve been working on is our fitness levels.”

Adding to the unknown for the Storm, who have won back-to-back premierships, is whether they will see the return of international premiership stars, playing coach Alston Bobb and VTCA division 3 best and fairest winner Akeem Springer.

Both are keen to return for a second season.

“International travel probably won’t be open for this season or at least until 2021,” Kunesevic said.

“We might get them in January and February and that would be great. We’re being flexible in our coaching structure and how that will look.”

Kunesevic said the potential loss of the two international stars could open up the doors for some of the Storm’s younger players to step up.

The Storm have been making sure their juniors aren’t forgotten, with Zoom and WhatsApp conversations aplenty.

The under-16s have been studying theory, trying to understand the game a bit better – something Kunesevic said they normally don’t get the time for.

Cam Clayton, a premiership winning captain-coach with St Anthony’s, has come across to Storm and taken on a lot of the coaching so far.

Gayashan Weerasekara, who has won two VTCA best and fairest awards, is the other key recruit for Storm, having crossed from Caroline Springs.

Williamstown is another club coming off a successful season, winning its second Victorian Sub-District Cricket Association premiership in three years.

Both its firsts and second XIs were awarded the premiership last season after being the highest-ranked team heading into the grand finals, which were cancelled.

Seagulls secretary Jordan Doyle said there wasn’t a lot happening at the club with the present restrictions.

“We haven’t been able to do our annual GM [general meeting],” he said.

“Some clubs have chosen to do over Zoom, but we have life members to induct so we don’t really want to do it on that platform.

“The executive committee has been meeting frequently and discussing some things. I’ve had a council meeting and discussion about a few things that are happening with our ground.”

Doyle said seniors were due to start pre-season training at the start of August, but hadn’t been able to do so.

With most of the premiership side sticking together, it had made things a lot easier. Fraser Hay, who won the club’s first XI bowling average, has moved to Footscray, while Dale McDonald has retired again.

Former junior Sean Sturrock returns from playing premier cricket with Melbourne.

“It’s all been pretty positive and we’re confident we have the depth,” Doyle said.

“We haven’t set any individual programs as we’ve all been in stage four lockdown. There’s a few of us in our Strava group doing some fitness stuff.

“Everyone has been around long enough to know what is expected of them. You need to be fit for cricket, but it’s not like footy when you need 100s of ks [kilometres] in the legs.”

Doyle said the club believed it needed three weeks of training ahead of any season.

He said last season he only played one game until the end of November due to poor weather, so if a season could get underway some time this year, they might not lose too much cricket.

With their ground unavailable for much of the season due to ground works, Doyle said for them this was the ideal season, if any, to have less games.

From a club perspective, Doyle said the junior step up was more complicated with their program growing and several clubs in the area.

Clubs aren’t the only ones dealing with the unknown, with associations having to put several plans in place depending on the circumstances.

VSDCA chief executive Ken Hilton said they still remained confident that there would be a season and there has been no suggestion from Cricket Victoria that no cricket would be possible.

He said it’s been shown in the United Kingdom that cricket can be played safely.

Having had their season cut short last season, Hilton said clubs were keen to get back on the ground.

He said there could be a different fixture structure depending on restrictions.

The Gisborne and District Cricket Association has already made the call to make its season one-dayers only.

President Rob McIntyre said one of the biggest issues was the location of clubs.

With half of its clubs in the metro region and half in regional areas, they could have different COVID-19 timeframes for sport to resume.

“There may be a situation where the clubs in the other [regional] areas that are permitted to play may have a small competition whilst waiting for the clubs in metro councils to be permitted to play,” McIntyre said.

“We would then start over again with all clubs competing in a competition for points.”

McIntyre said they had seven different scenarios with January 30 the latest start time for a season.

Many GDCA clubs are reporting an increase in the number of players signing up, with many footballers keen to play some sport.

VTCA president Steve McNamara said they had a number of different scenarios ready to go.

He said they expected clubs to need four to five weeks to prepare for a season.

“Obviously we are expecting a delayed start,” he said.

“It’s just a waiting game for all of us at present. We are still confident of a start at some point.

“The vast majority of clubs are expressing a desire to play as their members are keen to get out in fresh air and play some sport again.

McNamara said there would be a number of changes once any season started, including all competitions facing stricter hygiene regimes.