Suddenly, competitive sport in front of spectators is a luxury. More than four months after Groundhoppers managed to hop to a ground (two, in fact, Hampden Park and Cathkin Park), the return of club cricket meant the camera could be brought out once again.

It also, inevitably, meant a downpour on Saturday morning, sufficient to throw prospects of play into question. Happily, it cleared up in time for Durham City to face Mainsforth in the Durham & Northeast Cricket League Frank Lees Cup.

landscape 3
Club cricket returns to action in England after the coronavirus lockdown. Durham City (fielding) take on Mainsforth at Green Lane, Durham.

The ground, leafy beside the river, isn’t quite as impressive as the neighbouring Racecourse Ground, home of Durham University and once a first-class venue when Durham first joined the County Championship. There is a cathedral view for Durham City, but not so photogenically aligned with the square. Unlike the university, though, which remains largely locked down, there is cricket to be played. The unexpected announcement that recreational cricket could return from July 18 saw local leagues up and down the country scramble to revive playing schedules long since deemed redundant. An abbreviated campaign got going in earnest this weekend, with most teams in some sort of competitive action at last.

Club cricket returns to action in England after the coronavirus lockdown. Note the temporary beer tents used as a pavilion to maintain social distancing. Durham City (batting) take on Mainsforth at Green Lane, Durham.

The crowd, as usual at this level, wasn’t large; certainly, there were no concerns about social distancing around the boundary. The chatter was all about how good it was to be back after months of living in stasis. Concerns about coronavirus already have a weary inevitability about them and Saturdays issues concerned kids playing beside the sight screen and treading in dog mess. “Im more worried about touching that than touching this virus,” lamented a long-suffering mum.

For the teams, meanwhile, lurking in the pavilion was a health and safety no-no. Perching on the grass bank is the new normal. It’s still hard to resist a high-five when a wicket goes down, though, and this proved to be a good day for bowlers. In the end, 19 wickets fell for 241 runs, with Mainsforth squeaking home on 121/9 after restricting the hosts to 120 all out. Adam May’s 5-24 almost saved Durham as he reduced the visitors from a comfortable 80/3 to an anxious 97/9, but Kevin Dixon hung around, farmed the strike and claimed a match-winning half century.

hit for six
Durham City’s Piers Davison launches a six onto the neighbouring rugby field during a game against Mainsforth.

Earlier, May had witnessed a collapse among his own team-mates, coming in during a calamitous spell that saw Durham reduced from 67/2 to 67/5 and then 87/8. Some lower order bat-swinging from fast bowler Piers Davison – including a six drilled back over the bowler’s head and onto the rugby field next door – helped City to a competitive target but it wasn’t quite enough.

Game details

Green Lane, Durham, England

Durham & NE League, Frank Lees Cup. July 18, 2020

Durham City 120 (Scott 31, Davison 21, May 20; Orton 3-19, Cavangh 3-26) vs Mainsforth 121/9 (Dixon 51*; May 5-24)

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