We are grateful to the chairman of Fair Oak cricket club near Eastleigh in Hampshire for loudly sounding the alarm this week about the future of cricket teas. With people less and less inclined to bring homemade food to the table, Tony Oxley says that his Hampshire Cricket League outfit are spending up to £2,000 per season that they can’t easily afford on pre-prepared comestibles for the afternoon interval. “Cricket teas cost so much money,” Oxley said, “that getting rid of them could actually help the league.”
Obviously, this is a dire emergency for cricket — and a slightly surprising one. After the success of The Great British Bake Off, one had blithely assumed that club cricket would find itself in a sickly surfeit of lemon drizzle cake, rather than lamenting their absence. But maybe the influence of Mary Berry penetrates less deeply into the culture than we have been led to believe.
Still, taking Mr Oxley at his word that the will simply isn’t there for home baking, after doing an extensive cost-analysis and running the figures through computerised models, our hearteningly positive conclusion is that clubs, could in fact, continue to afford teas and to keep this tradition alive by the relatively simple expedient of making savings in other areas.
A set of three Slazenger Select willow stumps, with bails, costs £25.49, which means, according to our costings, that by removing the stumps at just one end of the pitch, you would generate enough money for 13 packets of eight Mr Kipling French Fancies, making a total of 104 in all, or perhaps three whole teas-worth, depending on who’s at the table. The club could then replace the stumps with the plastic crate that the bread rolls came in Job done.
Or what about balls? The ECB-approved Readers Sovereign Special County A cricket ball has a retail price of £35. That translates, our research shows, into two M&S Classic Sandwich Selections, or 60 quarter-sandwiches in total, all conveniently arranged on an easy-serve platter and to include not just prawn mayonnaise but also British smoked ham and mustard, and chicken and bacon. It seems clear that massive benefits would accrue to teatimes if clubs could just commit themselves to using each ball for longer. True, the complete absence in due course of a seam is going to represent a drawback for the spin bowlers and seamers alike. But it’s surely a sacrifice they would happily make on the understanding that a full range of savoury sandwiches (and from a leading purveyor) was still on offer, mid-afternoon, as a consequence.
Then, of course, there’s upkeep of the grounds — rolling, mowing, etc. There are simply hundreds of pounds to be clawed back here over the course of a summer. True, players would be unhelpfully up to their thighs in dandelions a lot of the time, but at least they would know that a Bakewell Slice still awaited them at about 4pm.
It’s not just about money, though. There’s also the suggestion that time is an issue. People are apparently struggling to fit club cricket into their busy schedules and a leisurely teatime in the middle of everything isn’t helping. In which case, might we propose a new, quicker format? You could scale back from the full, sit-down, Mike Gatting version of tea, to a grab-and-go arrangement, with some of the more elaborate and time-consuming items, such as scones with jam and cream, or unsliced sponge cakes, replaced by grazing items, such as Haribo and cans of Red Bull, thereby simultaneously speeding things up and keeping the game relevant to the younger generations. We could call this new, zippier format Tea20. They could continue to use their mobile phones while they ate it, too, we would have no problem with that.
Whatever the solution, let’s not be guilty of downplaying the nature of the threat here. This actually is a storm in a teacup. What matters, over and above everything else, is that teatime survives, because, without it, people will feel at liberty to ask, “What is the point of cricket?” And then the club game really has a problem.
* Hampshire League chairman Denis Emery has asked us to point out that the HCL is not in favour of scrapping teas but is actively involved in discussing the future shape the competition should take, ie overs per match/per bowler and start times.