St Annes Cricket Club in a hurry to be up to speed for start of season
St Annes Cricket Club is rising to the challenge of preparing for a Northern Premier League season which begins in just two-and-a-half weeks.
As of this week, training in the nets can begin – but with their first scheduled fixture away to Morecambe on April 17, there is no time to lose.
Blackpool CC chairman Dave Cresswell told The Gazette last week that significant obstacles must yet be overcome to achieve a prompt start after three months of lockdown.
St Annes director of cricket Richard Dearden agrees but says the Vernon Road club will do all they can to clear those hurdles.
He told The Gazette: “I think all of us are in the same boat. We can only start nets this week, so it’s all a bit close but if we make the best use of all the available time we will probably be able to catch up.
“We haven’t been able to arrange any friendlies and we can’t have spectators yet, so it’s all a bit of a challenge.”
What is particularly challenging is engaging a club professional for this season given the restrictions on international travel.
Dearden added: “Sorting out a pro is the hardest part. We had a really good one lined up last week - a former captain of Scotland – but he has signed for another club.
“I’m trying to make contact with friends overseas but it is very difficult in the current situation.
“We have the ‘red list’, which means you can only engage players from certain countries. I think only six clubs in our league have registered a professional and a few are searching.
“But we will continue to work very hard because we want this to be the best league it can be.
“We have some very good local talent but it is good to bring in someone who can be a leader for tougher times.”
St Annes will again be led by captain Tom Higson as they bid to improve on a disappointing 2019, having finished second and third in the previous two seasons.
However, as Dearden explained, preparations for the 2021 season are as much about obeying rules as finding form.
“We had a Zoom meeting on Monday night to lay down everything we need to know about practising within the rules to make the most of the time we have,” he said.
“There will be local inspectors who have the power to close grounds if you are not observing good practice.
“But we’ll use every day available to prepare for the season and everyone is really excited.
“My grandson has been asking me to throw some balls down for him and he’s only six.”
At the senior end of the club’s spectrum, the first XI will be similar to last year, though wicketkeeper Richard Staines has moved on to neighbours Lytham.
Dearden said: “Richard was a big player for us but we have signed the former South Shore captain Luke Jardine, who did exceptionally well in the Palace Shield.
“We have some promising young players and we’re hoping the Flintoffs (Andrew’s sons Corey and Rocky) will play in the seconds.”
Recent international action can only whet the appetite for the season ahead, even if it wasn’t quite a return to normal.
Dearden said: “We’ve seen some great cricket on television recently to get everyone in the mood, even if the results have not gone England’s way.
“The saddest thing is that the grounds have been empty and you realise what a big difference spectators make.
“The cricket has been great to watch but they have felt like practice matches with no-one there. That is so sad but hopefully the situation will improve soon.”
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