UK government under pressure to lift cricket virus ban

By: AFP      Published: 06:49 PM, 25 Jun, 2020
UK government under pressure to lift cricket virus ban

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was told "England is not England without cricket" by one of his own Conservative MPs on Thursday as the British government came under renewed pressure to lift a ban on recreational cricket during the coronavirus pandemic. 

During a debate in Parliament, Peter Bone MP urged Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, to "persuade the chief umpire (Johnson) to stroll across from Number 10 next week" and announce the amateur game can resume .

International cricket is set to get underway for the first time since lockdown when England face the West Indies in a three-Test series starting at Southampton on July 8.

But the amateur game remains mothballed, with professional county cricket delayed until at least August 1.

Earlier this week, while announcing a lifting of lockdown restrictions on pubs and restaurants, Johnson said club cricket could not resume because the ball is a "natural vector of disease".

But with social tennis and golf currently allowed, his comments were labelled "utter nonsense" by former England captain Michael Vaughan.

Many British politicians have been cricket lovers.

Clement Attlee, Labour's Prime Minister in the years immediately after the Second World War had an agency ticker machine installed at 10 Downing Street so he could receive the county scores.

Alec Douglas-Home, briefly Prime Minister in the 1960s, played 10 first-class matches in the 1920s.

Meanwhile another Conservative Prime Minister and cricket enthusiast, John Major, during a speech to rally support for his position of keeping Britain in the European Union in 1993, said that "fifty years from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county (cricket) grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs (and) dog lovers".

Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, central England, appeared to tap into that spirit on Thursday when he recalled visiting his local cricket club last weekend.

He said he had "heard the ripple of applause from the boundary and the occasional shouts of "owzat?'" before realising he was imagining it.

Bone added: "Up and down the country thousands and thousands of men and women and boys and girls are desperate to play competitive cricket.

"England is not England without cricket.

"Leader, would you persuade the chief umpire to stroll across from Number 10 next week and make a statement in this House that play can resume?"

Somerset supporter Rees-Mogg replied that few MPs missed cricket as much as he did.

"All my tickets to go to watch various Test matches across the course of the year, my visits to Taunton (Somerset's headquarters), have all had to be cancelled," he said.

"And worst still, there was a chance that Somerset might win the County Championship for the first time in its history."

Rees-Mogg agreed the absence of cricket was a "real loss" but added "we have to be as safe as we possibly can be".