Merseyside cricket club overcomes challenges to remain force for good in local community

A grassroots cricket club based in Liverpool is one of many in the UK to have faced issues recently, but thanks to a strong leadership, they have stood strong.

Birkenhead St Mary’s Cricket Club (BSMCC), founded in 1878 and located in Birkenhead Park, has experienced a fair number of challenges in recent years.

The start of the cricket season was delayed for many grassroots clubs as pitches were flooded following the wettest 18 months on record. Keith Batchelor, the club’s secretary, knew it would be a challenge.

He said: “Maybe a little bit difficult at the start, but I think we all realized that the weather was so bad during March that a delay to the cricket season was absolutely inevitable. There was really no chance it was going to get started on time.

“Our league came up with a solution that the first weekends fixtures, we could just cancel one block and move them to an extra week towards the end of the season.

“It seemed a sensible solution and I think it’s worked quite well. Yes, players were keen to play, but they all realise that you can’t play when you’re underwater.”

Keith joined the club in 1998 as a player. Over the years, his responsibilities have grown to include not only club secretary, but also the treasurer and web site administrator.

When 2020 rolled along with Covid, the sporting world was brought to a halt. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) estimated that cricket lost £70-80m during 2020. Grassroots cricket went five months without play.

During that time, the ECB issued over 700 grants and 40 loans to recreational cricket thanks to their emergency loan schemes. Keith saw the damage first hand, but he says it wasn’t all about the cricket.

He said: “2020 was a very strange season. Everyone wanted to play cricket. The difficulty was we weren’t allowed to, and it’s not just the lockdown regulations that were in place.

“The ECB wouldn’t allow leagues to form any cricket and it needed, in the end, the directive from the ECB to get the game underway.

“And yes, it was very challenging because people couldn’t come to the club. They couldn’t socialise as they normally could, they couldn’t see friends, and it was a very difficult time.

“We’re lucky here that we have a bar as well, and we obviously lost significant bar income during that time.”

Even after being struck with uncontrollable obstacles, BSMCC remains a safe haven for many cricket players. Their U11 side consists of a group of boys from a local football team who wanted to give cricket a go. As enthusiastic as they may be, Keith explained how “they don’t understand really that you can’t play when it’s wet.”

The ECB has been committed to making cricket a gender-balanced sport with grassroots cricket clubs encouraged to set up a women’s section. Keith says that for BSMCC, the interest just isn't there yet.

He said: “I think we’re some way off there at the moment. We’ve had two or three girls who have been interested in joining the U11s team, but they haven’t actually signed up to participate yet.

“I personally don’t think there’s enough interest within the club, we’d have to look far outside the club to get more women involved to play. We have two or three on the committee.”

All their teams (1 st XI, 2 nd XI, U11) are planned to play this weekend, although the weather predicts a good chance of rain.