THIS coming Saturday should have brought the opening matches in the 2020 West of England Premier League season, but coronavirus has put paid to club cricket for now - and the immediate future.

Lloyd Alley, 1st XI captain at Taunton St Andrews Cricket Club, and Hugh Kelly, his counterpart at Taunton CC, spoke to the County Gazette about how their clubs had been affected.

Saints had two friendly matches lined up, against Tiverton Heathcoat and Wembdon, and were also due to hold a club get-together and paintball activity.

Taunton were also planning to have a club day, Kelly said, and had enjoyed a good start to pre-season in the indoor nets at the Cooper Associates County Ground before that ceased in mid-February.

Ground maintenance has been able to take place, at least, providing that social distancing rules are adhered to.

Alley said: “Dennis Breakwell, our groundsman, has been working really hard.

“He sent us a picture showing the pitch looking in great nick.

“A lot has been done and it’s primed for us to play again; the weather’s great but we’re all stuck inside.”

Kelly said: “We’re very lucky to be connected with the County Ground, and our main groundsman Rob Hake has been able to maintain the ground.

“We were to have access to a hybrid pitch at Gipsy Lane, which would have been a good experience and a carrot for new players.”

Both clubs’ 1st XIs were looking to bounce back this year, having suffered relegation - to Premier 2 in Saints’ case, and the Somerset Division for Taunton - in 2019.

Alley, who has taken over as captain from James Regan, said: “Last year was very disappointing for us, but we’re in the best position we’ve been in for a while.

“With two really good signings - Louis Kraucamp from Ilminster and Steve Tinnion from Shapwick & Polden - we were well set up to attack Premier 2.

“We’ve got some great young lads coming through who are on the Somerset Academy, and we also hoped to have Tom Banton and Eddie Byrom playing for us again, as well as an overseas player from South Africa - but I can’t see him coming over now.”

There is also a feeling of disappointment at Taunton.

“We went down last year, and looked forward to bouncing back this year,” said Kelly.

“Not having the opportunity to do that would be a shame, as we were getting things in place to make the most of this season.

“Ex-Millfield pupil Chirag Dhindsa, who played for us in 2018 and 2019, was due to come back from playing in India, but now he won’t be coming for the foreseeable.

“Knowing him already made that situation easier to manage, at least.”

A full league season now looks all but impossible, and it may be that 2020 is a year without any club cricket at all.

Alley and Kelly are still hopeful that some cricket will be played, however.

“I’m hopeful that there will be some - but that’s most likely to be T20s, like the National T20 cup with three teams,” Alley said.

“If we have one or two months to play, I can see that being an option. We could have a league, but no promotion or relegation.

“There’s no way people could play 50-over matches on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays to get all those fixtures played - people have lives and families.”

The amount of cricket that is, or isn’t, played will have an impact on clubs’ income from membership fees, bar takings and so on, but every club’s financial circumstances are different of course.

“We’ve never been a club that pays big money for players, and we don’t own our own bar or clubhouse - those belong to the council,” said Alley.

“So it doesn’t change that much for us financially, as we’re not missing out on making thousands of pounds at the bar.

“We’re not getting our subs, but we’re not paying out for umpires or match teas, so it just about balances out.”

Kelly added: “Financially we still have some things ongoing, for example our monthly bonus ball for members - so we do have some income.

“There is some concern about sponsorship, as it could be a tougher sell to businesses coming back from a difficult period.

“Members will support the club, and there will be opportunities to fundraise. People will want to get out and about and have a party!

“So we’re not in dire straits, but we will be thinking outside the box.”

Another concern is the retention of players, especially youngsters, if there is no cricket played.

Alley said: “If the whole summer was wiped out, it might be a tough one.

“But in our junior section, the lads are very committed and have played their way up from the youngest age groups.

“So I can’t see them going off and not coming back.

“Numbers might twindle slightly, but I can’t see it making a massive difference.”

Similarly, Kelly said: “I know that some youth players are still practising at home, whether that’s with a tennis ball against a fence, or one that I know who has a ball machine set up in his back garden!

“When this is all over, we will be asking ‘how can we attract people to our club?’

“We hope that we can manage the impact, and I think a lot of kids will still be desperate to get back to playing cricket again.”