IT WAS an innings to rival Mohammad or Cook and Covid-19 certainly made the most of its chance to bat, keeping Clacks’ cricketers out of action for most of their season. 

However, after nearly six months without so much as a rain delay to enjoy, Wee County’s players are finally getting back into the swing of things. 

Clackmannan County Cricket Club returned to action on Saturday by cruising to victory over Linlithgow 2XI at The Arns – their first competitive action in a season which was supposed to get underway in April. 

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Like everyone in Clacks, it’s been a testing time for the those connected to the team.

But, for Joe Smith, the club’s secretary, lockdown has shown just how closely-knit Alloa and its surrounding villages are. 

“Lockdown almost exactly coincided with the cricket season,” he told Advertiser Sport.

“We would usually start to play matches in April, so it was a bit of a shock when it came just at the last minute of our pre-season preparations. 

“There was various levels of pessimism about what might happen but it was always about staying optimistic that something would happen before the end of the season. 

“We are a lot more fortunate than a lot of clubs as we have our own facilities and we are not reliant on others for playing. 

“The support from so many people has been great. Clackmannanshire Third Sector Interface has been brilliant with us and even helped to refund some of our costs on Covid-19 measures, around £250. 

“That covers hand sanitiser, signs and all those types of things. 

“They also provided free hand sanitiser, as much as you wanted, from Diageo. We put in an order for ten bottles and we got it.”

During lockdown, the club’s members joined together to complete much-needed restoration work on the Arns’ pavilion while also installing a memorial bench to members who have passed on. 

Named after former club president David Henderson, ‘Hendo Hill’ (pictured, inset) is a touching gesture to those connected to Clackmannan over the years. 

Smith said: “We’ve done up the roof on the pavilion to give it a new lease of life. That’s a job that’s been needing doing since it was built 80 odd years ago.

“We’ve not suffered terribly financially because although our income has fallen our outgoings have fallen too. 

“It’s not been good because it’s a cricket club and we want to play cricket but nor has it been as disastrous as we might have feared.” 

On the field, things have been a little bit strange for the club’s players, who, before last week, had to train under strict conditions to meet standards set out by the Scottish Government and Cricket Scotland, the game’s governing body. 

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“Up until very recently we have been in a situation where during training players have had to have their own balls and not been allowed to share them,” Smith, 38, said. 

“When club matches were given the go-ahead, we could then move into a situation where we could use a single ball and could field. 

“Cricket Scotland have been quite keen on us not being treated the same as we are a low contact sport, compared to, say, rugby.

“The East of Scotland Cricket Association have put together a bunch of mini-leagues with small numbers of teams that will enable us to play. They’ve been really good and have always said we would be ready to start as soon as possible.

“Cricket Scotland has done some excellent lobbying to make sure we could play and get back to the sport as soon as possible.” 

Not only was it important to be back on the field for the players’ sake - and Smith knows as much as anyone how crucial the sport is for people’s wellbeing beyond the game - it’s arguably been just as crucial for those who have had to endure the worst the pandemic has had to offer. 

The club has long since held a special place in the hearts of members past and present, perhaps even more so in post-lockdown Clackmannanshire. 

“We have a lot of senior members, ex-players, who are around the club,” Smith said.

“They are quite often gentlemen in their 80s who have maybe been a bit more isolated during the last few months. 

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“They can now come and sit out in the sun, chat, and watch a bit of cricket. It’s so important for them, the people who love cricket and have played it all their life. It’s great to be able to give them something.

“It was really important we were ready to go quickly after the lockdown because people were not just itching to play cricket but to see people.”