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It was cricket at Sudbury's Friars Street, but not quite as we know it




With it being 91 days since Sudbury were meant to have hosted Witham in a 2020 season curtain-raising friendly, there was a big irony in the clock at Friars Street having stopped at a quarter-past six.

As across the entire country, time had literally stood still at the picture postcard ground, which now features a host of new signage for a new world. ‘Please do not touch the ball under any circumstances’ says one for spectators.

The wicket itself features new wider running lines for the non-striker to ensure two-metre social distancing is maintained. And there is a hand sanitisation table ready for the hygiene breaks for players hands and the ball which must take place every six overs, or 20 minutes, under new ECB regulations.

Cricket, Friars Street - Sudbury v Witham - first match back since Covid-19 outbreakPicture: Phil Chaplin (38437834)
Cricket, Friars Street - Sudbury v Witham - first match back since Covid-19 outbreakPicture: Phil Chaplin (38437834)

With the bastion of Britishness that is the cricket tea also currently confined to individual lunch boxes on the field, this is cricket but not as we know it.

A lot has changed in the 300 days that had passed since Sudbury last hosted a match at Friars Street.

But the feeling on Saturday was very much one of relief and excitement that an important part of people’s lives throughout the lighter months is finally back in play.

Cricket, Friars Street - Sudbury v Witham - first match back since Covid-19 outbreak; the new socially distanced running lanesPicture: Phil Chaplin (38437976)
Cricket, Friars Street - Sudbury v Witham - first match back since Covid-19 outbreak; the new socially distanced running lanesPicture: Phil Chaplin (38437976)

On arrival the players from both teams had to report to the designated ‘Covid officer’ at the club to declare they were free of symptoms, had their hand gel and to write their contact details in a book for possible tracing.

The dressing rooms were open but a table overturned created a partition between entrances to home and away sides with only two people allowed in each at any time with some provision also outside the doors.

Despite how long the players will be there, no food is allowed to be stored in the club’s fridge.

“It is very unusual territory,” said Sudbury and Suffolk player James Poulson, while waiting to bat.

“For years people doing teas have taken great pride in it and they are a big part of playing Premier League games. This is just a complete new form of cricket.”

The first ball – a cheap single for Talbots captain Adam Mansfield off the bowling of Leroy Facey, who had a false start on his run-up – and indeed first few overs, demonstrated some ring-rust. But the match itself, pitting the former East Anglian Premier League champions against the reigning Two Counties Championship title holders provided plenty of entertainment for the expectant crowd, which more than doubled from 50 at the start for a thrilling climax.

After winning the toss, Mansfield had elected to bat under overcast skies and a temperature more befitting April than July.

Cricket, Friars Street - Sudbury v Witham - first match back since Covid-19 outbreakPicture: Phil Chaplin (38437951)
Cricket, Friars Street - Sudbury v Witham - first match back since Covid-19 outbreakPicture: Phil Chaplin (38437951)

Their full 40 overs saw them reach 183-8, with Darren Batch (40) having helped the hosts recover from a shaky start to climb from 77-4 to 127-5. Kenny Moulton-Day, whose brother and former team-mate Billy was unavailable to play for the visitors, was also instrumental in the total with a quickfire 38.

At the tail, Oliver Riddick (8no) made his debut.

The result was in doubt right till the end, and despite Poulson’s bowling, taking 4-41, Witham (194-9) held out for a one-wicket victory.

Not only did it entertain, it also served to bring people together again.

Steve and Jenny Beedle usually follow the 2nd XI home and away with Hescil and Dapne Honeyball, whom they first met at the club. They were reunited following lockdown at Saturday’s game.

“It is always a nice social afternoon for us here,” said Steve. “People see cricket as not exciting but they should come down to Sudbury.”

Club chairman Louis Brooks said: “It was a really good close game with both sides getting rid of some ring rust.

“Getting back to cricket safely was the main thing and all went well.”


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