Around 200 volunteers descended on Streatham & Malborough Cricket Club to kick-start the NatWest CricketForce weekend.
Based in Surrey, close to the Kent boundary, the club shoots off from a main road into a car park that leads to two enclosed pitches. The furthest one is platformed on higher ground, with green banks flanking two sides. In the summer, both are usually populated with spectators lounging in the sun while taking in the first or second XIs. This time, there were vast numbers donned in white NatWest CricketForce T-shirts, armed with an array of rakes, cutters and chainsaws.
“The aim is to clear the bank completely,” said Rajan Patel, Streatham & Malborough bowler, former chairman of selectors at the club and, this weekend, on-site project manager. After clearing the area, one of the banks will be terraced, with sleeper steps installed and will be populated with benches and plants to spruce it up.
“Everyone’s got to pitch in and get their hands dirty. But, you know, the season is just around the corner so hopefully everyone finishes the work unscathed!”
If ever a day outlines how club cricket is driven by the enthusiasm and generosity of volunteers, it is days like this. And Streatham & Malborough are an example of a club thriving on the enthusiasm of its members.
They have six men’s teams on a Saturday, supplemented by two XIs on a Sunday and a Development XI. Last year, the second and fifth XIs secured promotion, while the other four sides finished in the top half. Over the winter, they had nearly 50 new enquiries from prospective members. This year, they are aiming to get out eight sides on a Saturday.
“Days like this are great,” said Patel. “As a club, you’ll always get your 20 to 30 hardcore members who get involved over the years. But the nature of NatWest CricketForce sees a much greater turnout and it could be a springboard for longer-term projects further down the line.”
One of those projects is the renovation of the pavilion, which has been in the works for “six to eight years”. For now, the bathrooms are being redecorated, the floors redone and a new kitchen installed.
Usually a thriving hub on a Saturday evening, with around 40 to 50 teammates lauding success and laughing at the odd mishap, today the pavilion acts as a temporary garden centre: filled to the brim with paint, brushes and everything you could ever need to dig ground or whack weeds. Most of the apparatus to hand, including a number of diggers used to create paths and erect a net that will protect those playing on the tennis courts from flying sixes, had been obtained through an array of fundraising initiatives organised by members of the club.
Manning one of the diggers is David Brown.
A huge cricket fan, it was David’s daughter who actually got him involved with Streatham & Malborough. She began playing at the club at the age of eight, at first training with the boys before moving to a Wednesday night to play with the women’s team. While watching his daughter train, he picked up a loose ball and began bowling in the nets. He’s now gearing up for his third season at the club.
As the owner of his own construction business, Dave is a crucial part of days like this: directing those around him and offering advice to those unfamiliar with the work. “I haven’t got time to explain how much we’re looking to get done,” he said. He then points to a document in the hands of another volunteer: “It’s 15 pages!”
One of the club’s biggest aims is to set up a female section – at present, there is one women’s team, which plays in the Surrey Development League. Karen Klomp has been one of the many driving forces behind women’s cricket at the club.
Moving to south London from the Netherlands 10 years ago, she enjoyed watching cricket and decided it was time to give it a whirl.
“It was about eight years ago that I decided I wanted to do a team sport and I decided to start playing. Before I knew it, I’m now on the executive committee as secretary and am involved with the women’s team and days like this.”
Klomp’s duties also include organising fixtures for the women’s side, with a full programme in place for the season ahead. This year, for the first time, the club will also look to put out a girls' team. “It’s time to take the next step to start a specific girls’ section. It’s just a case of getting it into the structure. We’ve been speaking to other local clubs to see how they went about getting started. I believe we can really achieve that.
“It’s great to be able to work with the ECB to set up days like this across the country. Around 2,200 clubs have registered for this weekend, which is brilliant, and it’s nice to be able to bring in NatWest employees from branches in the local community to come and help. There’s a lot of hard grafting work going on today!”
“I get a lot of calls from people asking where their local clubs are taking part. If your club is interested, you can sign up on the ECB website to register and receive more information from there. It’s growing year on year.”
"It’s been a fantastic day here. It’s nice to come down and feel like you’re making a difference to a local cricket club."
For England’s Steven Finn, today’s scenes are very familiar. “I spent many a day like this growing up, at the beginning of the season. You know, just making sure the club was in order ahead of the season. It’s so important for the longevity of the club game.”
Finn grew up around cricket his whole life. His earliest memories were watching his dad at Watford Town Cricket Club, before playing at Langleybury Cricket Club from the age of seven.
“I’ve very much indebted to the people that help club cricket. It was at Langleybury that, as a kid, I got involved in these kind of schemes. It’s a great day to have everyone down at that club: that sense of camaraderie really helps when the season starts.”
Finn’s dad is now vice president at Langleybury and Finn himself will be returning to the club this weekend to help out coaching the first XI.
“It’s been a fantastic day here. It’s nice to come down and feel like you’re making a difference to a local cricket club and seeing the difference it will make to the players and members for the rest of the summer.”