The 2020 season promised to be an exciting one for Shropshire County Cricket Club with a new management and coaching team in place.
During the winter, John Abrahams joined as the County’s new Director of Cricket, ex-player and former Kent High Performance Coach Jason Weaver also came on board, and ex-Lancashire and England spinner Simon Kerrigan also signed up.
But then the Covid-19 lock down came into force in the middle of March, bringing an abrupt halt to the pre-season preparations.
Despite the setback, new Chairman John Hulme is confident Shropshire in particular and cricket in general are in a strong position both on and off the pitch.
He said: “Despite the disruption to our season, and the uncertainties which lie ahead, cricket will return – hopefully sooner rather than later.
“Then we can all be re-acquainted with old friends and foes alike and once more enjoy the many pleasures our wonderful summer game brings.
“I remain very optimistic about the future of Shropshire cricket. The county club now has the necessary infrastructure in place to nurture and develop the young talent we have within the county.
“Good housekeeping, and commercial awareness, allied to the very generous support of our patrons and commercial sponsors, have helped us to maintain a strong financial position upon which we can continue to build.
“As with the long-awaited return of our game, we must, however, be patient.”
John has been associated with Shropshire County Cricket Club for the best part of 50 years, first as a player and then on the committee.
He said: “Like so many others, I began playing for the County Youth team before going on to play for the Development side, or the Under 23 team as it was known in those days.
“I was fortunate enough to make my debut for the full County side at the age of 19 – I was on the Gloucestershire ground staff at the time.
“The game was against Bedfordshire at Bedford School. I replaced Brian Perry who was unavailable.
“I recall batting with Robert Burton on the final day as we tried to save the game against Jack Smith and Graham Jarrett, both of whom were high quality spinners. Robert went on to score a very elegant 80, but Beds won the game and were later crowned Minor Counties Champions.
“I played off and on for Shropshire until 1983 when further injury brought my county career to an end, but it was always a great honour to represent Shropshire, and fun whilst it lasted!
“As I neared the end of my club career, I was invited to join the county committee, by the then chairman, John Bennett.
“It was a privilege to serve under both John and his successor, Bryan Foulkes. I learned a lot. Both John and Bryan were very skilled chairmen, having enjoyed successful business careers.
“They enjoyed a deep knowledge of the game and life – they were great ambassadors for Shropshire cricket.”
John has taken over as Chairman from Toby Shaw after ten years in the role.
He admits: “They are some very sizeable shoes to fill. Toby’s drive, attention to detail, high level of business acumen and marketing skills, have helped to put the County on a very sound financial footing which is the envy of many other NCCA clubs.
“The importance of sustainability cannot be overstated in these very challenging times which lie ahead for clubs over the next two-three years.
“Nor should we forget the long service of Bryan Jones, former player and county captain, who stepped down from chairman of selectors at the end of last season – his continuing love of the game and passion for Shropshire cricket knows no end.”
As chairman, his primary role is to deal with the overall management of club affairs, including governance, finances and playing performance.
He said: “I lead meetings, and with the very significant backing and support of our hard-working committee members, in particular Secretary, Treasurer and Director of Cricket, help to set out plans for the overall development of the club both in the short and medium term.
“Our objective as a club remains the same, namely to encourage and promote cricket within the county for the benefit of our members, acting at all times in their best interests and in accordance with their wishes.
“In addition, I see my role as working closely with the Board and schools in the county to ensure that the game continues to thrive in Shropshire. Working with the schools is crucial: the next generation continues to be the lifeblood of the game.”
He believes there is a clear player pathway for youngsters in Shropshire – from All Stars and Chance to Shine, through to the County Age Groups and Academy and the full County side – and beyond.
“With more than a dozen players from Shropshire during the last decade having entered the ranks of professional cricket, we are committed to providing a continued pathway for our young players to progress to the First Class game and beyond.
“It has been immensely gratifying to see the likes of James Taylor, Joe Clarke and Ed Barnard, who all started out their early cricketing careers in Shropshire, go on to achieve international recognition.”
He is hopeful there will be some cricket to enjoy this summer at all levels of the game with a careful and gentle easing of lock down in the coming months.
He said: “Sport – an essential part of many of our lives – no longer had quite the same meaning as our sense of priorities changed with the safety and protection of lives becoming uppermost in our minds with the arrival of Covid-19.
“With the gentle easing of lock down and the return of First Class cricket, on August 1, we still cling to the hope that we may see some cricket before the end of the season, subject, of course, to health and safety being closely safeguarded.
“The NCCA continue to keep its options and it is not beyond the realms of possibilities, if a second peak can be avoided, that the season could be extended into October.
“The challenges we all face are very real with the landscape of international and First Class cricket predicted to change. Such challenges, of course, face all sports, both at elite and recreational level, not just cricket.
“With the new order of social distancing likely to be with us for quite some time yet, the resultant loss of revenue from gate receipts, hospitality, merchandising, sponsorship and broadcasting rights will inevitably impact upon all domestic sport, filtering down to those at grass roots level.
“Cost cutting will be inevitable, with playing budgets even at local level likely to be reduced.
“There are those predicting that fewer First class matches, but the potential silver lining to this could be the raising in standards of club cricket with more county professionals returning to the leagues at weekends, akin to top grade cricket in Australia.
“Whatever path First Class cricket is forced to take, those clubs at grass roots level must be prepared to adapt and re-model their business plans, cutting their cloth accordingly to maintain financial viability and prosper.”
But, as he points out, Shropshire have been playing cricket since 1818 – in the context of which the summer of 2020 will be hopefully just a footnote.
“It was in early October 1818 that the county played its first reported match – against Cheshire at Oswestry. History is very much on our side. The game in Shropshire will continue to thrive and provide timeless pleasure for many.
“Here’s to the next 200 years!”