Waringstown captain Lee Nelson admits the return of cricket won’t be quite the same without their supporters watching on.
The NI Executive released details about the return of sport on Thursday saying ‘outdoor competitive games and sporting events can also start again from July 11’ but that no spectators would be allowed to watch the games.
Like most clubs, Waringstown have a loyal base of support that is present at all of their games whether it’s home or away, but if the current rules are still in place by next weekend, they will miss out on being present as their team start the season with a Robinson Services Cup clash against Instonians.
“It is deflating,” said Nelson.
“A lot of our supporters are family members, players’ wives, partners and children and our club is very much community based.
“The cricket club is where our local community spend their weekends during the summer. To not have that is very disappointing.
“From a personal point of view, I think the decision is incorrect. I do think the supporters should be allowed in and they need to be treated like responsible adults. I’m sure they could socially distance without any problems given the large area of ground that we have.
“We just hope that there is some way around it and someone can make a decision that is more feasible for the clubs than is in place.
“It does (take something away from the return). I could sit here and say this and that but it does.
“From a playing point of view, we are very happy to get back playing in some capacity because for a large part of the year we thought there would be no chance of cricket.
“Whilst it’s annoying that as it stands the supporters won’t be there, we are glad to be back playing and we have to make the most of it.
“I didn’t think at a certain stage there would be anything so we have to be grateful that we have the opportunity to get back playing again.”
When they do get onto the pitch, Waringstown will be confident of competing on all fronts given their success in the Twenty20 format over the last few years.
Nelson led them to the LVS Twenty20 Cup in 2016 during his previous stint as captain before they retained their crown in 2017 and 2018 under Greg Thomspon.
Since 2015, they have reached at least the final in every season, losing out to CIYMS in both 2015 and 2019 while they also won the All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup in 2018.
With the season curtailed to a maximum of 12 games across the two competitions, Nelson will be looking to give the wealth of younger talent at the club an opportunity to prove themselves in the absence of overseas professional Andre Malan and James McCollum, who is missing for the first three games as he’s on Ireland duty in England.
“I think we have got to the stage where we just have to make the most of it,” he added.
“From our perspective as a squad, this season will probably present opportunities for some of our younger guys to gain experience.
“We aren’t going to have our professional and will maybe be without James McCollum for a large part of the season, so this will give the young players more of a chance to bat and bowl and get the experience that will stand them in good stead going into next year.
“Morgan Topping looks like he has his old hunger and enthusiasm back for it and it looks like he is enjoying being back. His younger brother looks to have come on leaps and bounds and we have Ben Snell who is only 14 or 15 that made his debut last season.
“We have a decent core of youngsters that will get a decent opportunity along with our own guys making sure we win as many games as possible.
“Not having Andre is going to be a massive blow but at the minute it isn’t viable to be bringing a pro over for seven games or so and needing to self-isolate when you get here, which is annoying for us because we were really looking forward to having him.”
With McCollum missing from the top order at certain times, it appears the returning Morgan Topping will slide into that role in his absence.
Topping left Waringstown in 2018 to join CSNI, spending two seasons at Stormont before switching back to The Lawn ahead of the 2020 campaign.
Having watched how he has developed as a cricketer, Nelson is excited to have him back at the club.
“Morgan batted three in an Under-19 World Cup and from what I’ve seen of him this season, he looks like he is back to being that player that got him that reputation,” he said.
“I would really like to see him kicking on now and have that confidence and belief to thrive at this level. I’m looking forward to watching him back playing with us.
“I’m going to give Morgan a go up the order. My plan for Morgan was to bat him wherever James McCollum would have batted in 20 or 50 over games when he was away and then take a spot lower down when James was back. He is going to get an opportunity and I just hope he thrives in it.”
Another young star that could have a role to play at some point this summer is Jack Carson.
Carson has long been marked as one to watch in terms of senior international involvement in the future and has been with English side Sussex at different levels since 2013 while progressing through the ranks at Waringstown.
Playing for their Academy before progressing into the 2nd XI, the 19-year-old has already shown signs of his ability in the senior game by taking 5-42 against Essex 2nds in 2018.
He played alongside England’s Jofra Archer last season, taking two catches off the fast bowler as he recorded figures of 6-27 against Gloucestershire 2nds.
Carson has been training with his home club and while it remains to be seen if he will get the chance to play, Nelson is hoping he can call upon his services at some point.
“It’s very much dependent on how many games he is going to have in England at the weekends,” he said.
“From the conversations that we’ve been having with him at training, the majority of his games are going to be during the week.
“He has gone through our system right from U11 to First XI, so he is one of our own.
“From our point of view, we don’t have the financial backing or strength to just bring in anyone we want.
“That’s why it’s crucial for us, like where Morgan is concerned, to be producing our own and at a level that means we can compete at All-Ireland level.
“It would be nice to have Jack available at certain points of the year to showcase that we are bringing through our own players and still can do it on a regular basis.”
While out to win every game this season, Nelson will also be looking to take a glimpse into the future and see which of the next generation are capable of making the step up.
He remembers the chance that was taken on him as he broke into the senior ranks at the club and is keen to give others an opportunity to follow some of the standout stars in the current side.
“We will be going out to win every game and win every competition that is going,” he added.
“We are probably no different to any club in looking at this as an opportunity to plan for next year in terms of who is going to be in your mind for when cricket returns to normal.
“We are going to have a look at certain people to see if they are able to step up to that level or need to plan otherwise. Our plan is the same as it is every year.
“It’s Waringstown Cricket Club and every time we go on to the pitch we have to win and be competitive along with having a look at our youngsters in some games to try and get a glimpse into the future. Waringstown has been doing that for years.
“They had to take a gamble when I came through, when James Hall came through, when Adam Dennison came through. Denny played in a Senior Cup final at 14 so we have always done it.
“Whilst still remaining competitive, we have to make sure we can do that.
“We don’t have anywhere near the same financial power as other clubs to replace players when they want. We need to be able to do it self-sufficiently.”