THE new season got under way for Welsh cricket clubs earlier this month, and it was clear to see that the pandemic has only served to inspire a significant growth in the game at all levels.

Men’s, women’s and junior cricket across Wales has benefitted from the surge in interest in the sport – softball clubs and leagues for women and girls are also on the up.

While some of the cricket clubs have started from scratch, others are back after falling on hard times, and several existing clubs have formed new teams following an increase in playing numbers.

Fishguard & Goodwick CCC, who play in division five of the Pembrokeshire County League, is one of those reformed clubs, albeit with the word ‘community’ now in the name to give them the feel of a new club.

Playing at the home of Fishguard Sports AFC, their first game came five years after Fishguard & Goodwick CC folded.

Chairman Mathew Lamb, 45, who has been at the forefront of the club’s resurgence, tells the story of how it all started up again.

“I was coaching football at Fishguard Sports and through some good people at Pembrokeshire Sport and Sport Wales we got the funding to turn an agricultural field into the club’s new ground,” he said.

“When I had applied for the grant, I had written that we were going to have cricket there as well.

“Since the football club relocated to Tregroes in 2015 we have extended the field to fit two senior pitches and a cricket square in the middle.

“We started the cricket up again and last July began seeing what interest there was to get a committee together.

“We managed to start a committee which included people who had a lot of experience having been involved in cricket in the past.

“The wicket was laid last autumn and then started to prepare for this season. Looking after the pitch has been a bit of a learning curve to say the least.

“Leading up to the first fixture (they lost at home to Herbrandston seconds by 94 runs), I was a little bit concerned we weren’t going to get a team together, but we’ve now got 19 registered players.

“I didn’t sleep the night before the first match because I’d never prepared a wicket in my life – thank goodness for YouTube!”

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He added: “We lost our first game, but the main priority this season is to establish ourselves and then try to go from one senior team to developing junior players in the community.

“Since people have seen cricket is being played here again, we have been inundated with requests for junior cricket, but we also need people to coach them.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the community, they’ve been absolutely brilliant, and off the field, things are going really well.

“People probably thought I was crazy taking this on, but I’m driven by negativity, and if someone says something can’t be done then I like to prove them wrong.

“There has been a bit of negativity, but that has been outweighed by a lot of positive support, and the secretary Russell Jones has been an absolute star with things like the paperwork.” 

“The main thing for the team this year is getting that camaraderie within the squad,” said Lamb. “That’s quite important, especially when you’re playing in division five.”

Also in the west are newly-formed Ammanford-based outfit Wildboar Centurions playing in the South Wales Cricket Association, while Penygroes will be playing friendlies this year with a view to joining a league in 2022.

Cardiff Kits, along with South Wales Sri Lankan and Grangetown, are new to division 11 of the South East Wales League.

“There was a group of us who played for different clubs but we knew each other through Cardiff Ferrets, a midweek team,” said Kits chairman Simon Wallis, 57.

“We were losing interest in playing for teams where it was all about being good and winning.

“We enjoy the social side and just want people to do the best they can without any pressure.

“We had a couple of games late last summer but this will be our first full year. We’ve recruited 18 or 19 players, some of whom wanted to play alongside their sons.

“The majority have played league cricket before and are coming back to the game having finished a few years ago.

“We are competitive and want to win, but the result is not the most important thing. We want to play for the fun of it, we’re not aiming to rise through the leagues.”

The side’s first league game of this season, away to the Sri Lankans, was abandoned after just 10 overs due to rain, while last weekend’s home clash with Vale’s third XI fell foul of the weather without a ball being bowled.

Elsewhere, the North Wales Cricket League has seen an increase in Sunday team entries to 16, with Colwyn Bay and Northop Hall re-joining in a positive move for the region.

Cricket Wales CEO Leshia Hawkins is delighted with the game’s growth across the country, and believes the big task now is getting the new intake to form a “life-long love” of the sport.

Hawkins, who joined Cricket Wales last February, has also hailed the hard work of those responsible for “allowing us to not only survive but to thrive”.

“After such a challenging 14 months, it’s fantastic not only to see so much cricket being played safely again, but also the clear appetite people across Wales have for our sport,” she said.

“Whether it’s the growth of Saturday league cricket, record Welsh Cup entries, or Sunday friendlies becoming the norm again, through to the growth of All Stars Cricket and Dynamos Cricket among the kids, and women’s and girls’ cricket continuing its sharp upward trajectory, it reminds us administrators why we do what we do.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my team, but also, more importantly, our brilliant, resilient volunteers who have kept cricket going through the crisis, allowing us to not only survive but to thrive.

“In the context of a global pandemic, to be growing our clubs, teams and sections and offering increasing playing opportunities to players of five years old to 55-plus, regardless of gender, postcode, ethnicity or ability, we must all be doing something right.

“Our focus now, though, has to be on harnessing this demand and ensuring we continue to give players a great experience and allowing them to form a life-long love of the game.”

As well as the increase in clubs and teams, there has also been a rise in the number of officials.

Through the work of the Wales Association of Cricket Officials, there are 15 new umpires across South Wales, with the South Wales Premier League hoping to be up to 30 by the end of this season.

And, weather permitting, Anna Harris and Yvonne Dolphin-Cooper will make history next Saturday when they become the first female umpires to stand in a South Wales Premier League Division One game.