Based at the impressive Polo Farm facility in Kent, Canterbury Cricket Club is one of the oldest cricket clubs in the country. After recently joining the KUDOS stable, we caught up with club chairman Richard Durrant for a chat just as restrictions on outdoor grassroots sport were lifted, and with the club making its long-awaited return to action.
KUDOS: Back in the nets last week?
Richard Durrant: Yes! We had training sessions organised all over the weekend. People were desperately keen to get back out there.
So what has the last year been like for the club?
Well, we’re lucky – we’re a really young club. We’re a very old club – nearly 200 years old! – but over the last 15 years or so we’ve spent a lot of time trying to encourage youngsters to come and play. We re-started a junior section about 12 years ago, and now we’ve got four teams playing on Saturdays, mostly made up of under 25s. There are only about 6 or 7 of us that are over 25…which is great, but sometimes can have its drawbacks because some of them don’t drive! And that means it’s always the same people driving everywhere.
Last year all the local clubs got together and set up their own local league, so all the junior clubs still played each other – in fact the juniors probably played more cricket last summer than they normally would have done. Usually the junior leagues finish in the last week of July – last year they didn’t start until the 2nd week of July but they went on until September. We’ve got about 90 juniors and we usually train until the end of July – the school holidays kick in, everyone goes on holiday and you end up with massively reduced numbers. But because nobody could go anywhere last summer, we just kept on going right through until they went back to school in early September. The weather was fantastic – we only lost one game due to the rain. So we were very lucky. We didn’t struggle for fixtures, and we had a lot of players available all the time who were just desperate to play.
In terms of this summer’s cricket, have you got a proper set of fixtures and competition mapped out?
We have, yeah – only just! They mapped out the fixtures over the winter on a kind of “we hope to do this” basis, but we’re really pleased to say the email went round early this week to confirm it’s all on, all the leagues are going ahead as they should be. There will be some restrictions in place, socially – so the bar won’t be open, the clubhouse can’t be used for the first month of the season, but I imagine from mid-summer we should be able to use the facilities. But to begin with it’ll be the same as last summer – turn up already changed, no changing room facilities, play and go home.
After everything that’s happened, it’s going to be a massive summer for club cricket isn’t it?
It is, definitely. We’re going to have an awful lot of players keen to play. We’ll all be rusty – lots of blowing the dust off and lots of pain the next day. But we’ve had a lot of juniors move into the senior set up so we reckon we’ve got around 80 players that want 44 places. Usually that’s not a problem – usually there’s a few away, they’re on holiday, got a wedding to go or whatever. But I suspect this summer we’ll end up with a fifth XI – so long as we can find somewhere for them to play.
So can you tell us a bit about the club’s structure and the teams you have at the club?
We have four men’s XIs that play on a Saturday – and they include three Kent ladies that play for us in that men’s set up – and we have two women’s teams that play on a Sunday, a Development side on a Sunday too, and nine junior teams, both boys and girls, from u11s upwards.
That Development team is run entirely by the youngsters – all under 18s – they run it themselves, they organise their own fixtures and play. It means they get some fun cricket instead of the league cricket, which is slightly more pressured. They’re all decent cricketers, and if, say, someone’s batting at 7 on a Saturday, they can open the batting on Sunday. The idea is just to encourage the kids to go and have a good time. Enjoy yourselves!
That’s a lot of players to fit into the nets during the week!
We’re lucky enough to have two pitches, so the juniors train one night, the girls another and then the senior men. I’ve been chairman for about 10 years and I’ve seen a change in that time – as the age of the players has got younger, more and more of them turn up for nets. They’ve all done regular training since they were 8, so they just carry on in that vein. Whereas in the past, for all the guys like me, sometimes there was training, sometimes there wasn’t. It was sporadic, whereas now it’s different. The skipper of our first XI is 22, there’s one 31 year old in the side and one 24 year old – and all the rest are under 21.
During your time as chairman, international cricket hasn’t had terrestrial TV exposure, with it hidden away (for many) on Sky. How do you think that has affected numbers and participation?
Oh it’s definitely it had an effect. I guess we were lucky that when we started the junior section in around 2007, the 2005 Ashes was still fresh in kids’ minds, so it was easier then. We had coaches going into several different primary schools, locally, but that’s died out over the last 2-3 years due to a lack of funding and personnel, and that’s a massive shame. We do still have a lot of liaison with schools. Two of our coaches are teachers, and that helps. We have Kwik Cricket sessions on Saturday mornings, and while only about 25 or so come along to those sessions, most of them end up gravitating towards hard ball cricket.
You recently appointed Geraint Jones as 1st team coach! How did that come about and how much are you looking forward to the summer with Geraint in charge?
Oh he’s a lovely guy. In my position I’m lucky enough to get to know a few of the Kent guys, so I know him a little bit. He plays for Ash Cricket Club – after retiring from first class cricket he had to stop for two years before he could drop down to village level – and still coaches in schools. Our first team skipper knows him and asked him if he fancied doing it, and he said yes! Our first session was on Sunday – he’s sent a questionnaire out to all the players, he wants to get to know the players. It’s brilliant. Just a shame we’ve not been able to work with him over the winter.
With the enthusiasm accumulated over the last few months of inactivity, plus a new coach with the cricketing CV of Geraint Jones, the guys must have been absolutely bursting to get going?!
Oh absolutely. Put it this way, I don’t think anyone was missing for our first session on Sunday morning when it was about ten degrees and bearing in mind it was Easter Sunday! All of the first team were there.
So what are your hopes for the season ahead? Just happy to be playing or have you got your eyes on prizes?
Definitely eyes on prizes. We’re a bit of a yo-yo club – we sit in the first division, then we go up to the Premier League and we last a year or two and then come back down again. We’re not a club, historically, that’s ever paid a lot of money for players. We have an overseas player every year – we had Thando Ntini a couple of years ago. He was only with us for 4 games and then he got called into the South Africa squad! And now he’s playing for South Africa A regularly, so we’ll never get him back at our level. We’re in the first division this year, and we’ve signed a very good overseas player called Jarred Lysaught. He’s a very talented all-rounder from Australia, and he will win us games. We’ve got some real talent running through the team, and so we’re aiming for promotion.
Well good luck for the season! And so last but not least – to anybody thinking about coming along to a session, whether it’s juniors, women’s – how would you describe the club and what can a newcomer expect?
We’re a very inclusive club, a very friendly club. For us we want it to be a big family, and for people, primarily, to enjoy their cricket and that’s the most important thing, from the under 8s to the couple of players we have over 60. We want them to come and have fun – it is about competition, but mostly it’s about playing cricket with your mates and enjoying yourself. And if you’re enjoying yourself, you usually play better.
Thanks so much to Richard for his time and insight into what is clearly a fantastic cricket club. We’d like to wish everybody at Canterbury CC all the very best for the season ahead. Go well!
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