We heard various stories during lockdown of great work being done by individuals, teams and clubs to provide a much-needed boost to people.
A lot of that work has now stopped as we begin to return to some sort of normality, but one idea in Oxfordshire has continued to grow, culminating in a day many people will never forget.
The Masked Cricketer was the brainchild of Oxford Downs stalwart Darryl Woods, which saw a club cricketer from the county don a disguise while others tried to work out who they were by asking a number of questions on Facebook.
At first, it was the same handful of people asking the same questions each week and tuning in live. But that number started to grow and a couple of hundred soon watched the recordings on YouTube or Facebook.
Then things took off. A couple of hundred turned into a couple of thousand. They got the Lord’s Taverners involved – the leading and most respected youth cricket and disability sport charity in the country – and we had lift-off.
Introducing Cricketing Legends
The first few shows featured well-known Oxfordshire faces, but all of a sudden the groundswell of backing and support from the county and further afield saw some legends of the game play their part with former England captains David Gower and Mike Gatting ‘masking up’. Another ex-England player Andy Caddick also had a turn.
From social media to the Cricket Pitch
The success led to an idea to ambitiously plan a one-off charity match involving those who had taken part with a Masked Cricketer XI taking on a Lord’s Taverners XI.
Organising such a day is a laborious job at the best of times, but to run an event in a Covid-secure environment is something else. Fair play to the box-tickers who did so – there would have been an unbelievable amount of boxes that needed ticking.
Success from former England captains
Former England captains Gower and Gatting both agreed to turn up and umpire, with tickets – which were free but necessary with social distancing restrictions – selling out within days of going online. To round things off, the sun shone, the stars all appeared and a thrilling match ensued. An achievement in itself.
But then you hear the stories which happened as a result of the day. Like six-year-old Crew. His uncle is George Tait, the very first ‘Masked Cricketer’ and Oxfordshire Under 18 captain. Crew was born with Cerebral Palsy and his parents were told he may never walk or talk. But he has showed great courage and determination to prove doctors wrong and is now at school and able to do those things many doubted.
Crew turned up on the day, watched his uncle in action and got to meet Gower and Gatting as well as being presented with a Lord’s Taverners cap. It proved inspirational. Crew now wants to play cricket and has already signed up to attend disability sessions in the county.
A heart-warming outcome
It is heart-warming and emotional for all the organisers to know their efforts have led to such a huge achievement – even for just one young boy. But Crew will not be the only person to benefit. Significant funds have been raised for the charity and the publicity gleaned from two cricketing legends backing the day is immense.
They all deserve a huge thank-you from cricketers in the county – especially – but also the wider audience for going over and above to make this happen.
Their reward – Woods agreed to do a parachute jump if they achieved their fundraising target. Which they have. However, surely his accomplice Kieren Bushnell will not let him do it alone? I’d be pretty sure their money pot would swell significantly if he agreed to do one too…