BY MARCUS HOOK
Rikki Clarke is quietly confident all the hard work the Surrey players have been putting in – coupled with the ingenuity the club has shown in terms of also getting spectators back through the turnstiles – will give cricket lovers a much-needed lift over the next couple of months.
The domestic season gets underway tomorrow with the start of the Bob Willis Trophy.
While Clarke, 38, admits to being a little stiff after last weekend’s two-day friendly with Middlesex, he’s raring to go. The game was enjoyed by a 1,000-strong Oval crowd which, to Clarke, was icing on the cake.
“It’s fantastic to be playing again,” said the stand-in Surrey skipper. “We’ve been back for a good three to four weeks now and to find out we’d be playing in front of a crowd, there was no better feeling on Sunday morning than the ripple of applause when we went out to play.
“The lads are in good shape and ready for when the season kicks off on Saturday. We’ve done some really good work over the last few weeks. We’ve trained really hard in what was a shortened mini pre-season and we’re in a really good space.
“There were some tired bodies – it was a little bit of a shock to the system being in the field for 90 overs again – but that’s part and parcel of pre-season.”
Surrey are able to allow 2,500 spectators to watch the first two days of this weekend’s fixture – part of a pilot scheme to test government guidance on crowds returning to the sport.
Surrey chief executive Richard Gould says reduced numbers can only be a short-term fix.
He added: “Thirty per cent is not viable. We’ve got about 100 staff in [for the friendly with Middlesex], so it’s like a 10 to one ratio. We hope that if trials could get extended, we can then move to a more viable way.
“People are being really sensible, so if people are being really sensible you can adjust the numbers, so 30 per cent is not viable in the long term but it’s a start. You’d need to be getting north of 60 or 70 per cent for viability for commercial viability. That’s not going to happen with cricket this summer, but that would be the number that other sports will be wanting to try and get to.”
Clarke was one of the first county cricketers to volunteer to work in the National Health Service’s Good Samaritans’ scheme, at the start of the coronavirus crisis.
“I wanted to be an NHS volunteer because I wanted to do something in practical terms to help out in the community in which we live, in Wiltshire,” he explained.
“I was a responder, delivering shopping and medicines, and driving elderly people around where necessary.”
Clarke also helped to home-school his two children, aged 11 and six.
“We went out four times a week on the bikes, as part of our family exercise, and on the other three days I did some running by myself. I also have some weights at home and I did quite a lot of gardening.”
But now Clarke’s attention switches to embarking on a 19th season, albeit a truncated one, as a county pro.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve had a good run out against Middlesex for two days. So, fingers crossed, we can hit the ground running on Saturday when it becomes a little bit more serious.”
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