THE CRICKETER'S HEROES OF 2020: It is the measure of the man - selfless, quiet, unassuming but utterly essential to his community - that it often feels as though he doesn't realise just how important he is
I've known Chris O'Neill for more than a decade.
He is not the most able cricketer, but what he lacks in runs and wickets he makes up with insatiable community spirit.
Chris is the guy who will sweep the village hall floor after everyone else has stumbled home; he will pitch up in the rain at 7am to make sure the local fete has a tent for the tombola; he will build props for the amateur dramatic society; he will never say he is too busy to help - even though, really, he often is.
And this summer, he was the reason why a small cricket club in Wiltshire could keep playing through a pandemic.
Chris read the ECB guidance, interpreted it as needed for the confines of the former farmland ground White Horse calls home, wrote detailed briefing sheets and updated them as government regulations changed - seemingly on a weekly basis.
He cleaned and sanitised the pavilion before every match, ensured tables for spectators were at a safe social distance, made sure all the necessary signage was in place, and often ran the bar himself.
Oh, and he was usually found on a weekday afternoon scooting around the outfield on the gang mower.
For a non-playing member of the club, there was not a lot to be gained personally by such considerable outlay, but that would never be a consideration for Chris.
It is the measure of the man - selfless, quiet, unassuming but utterly essential to his community - that it often feels as though he doesn't realise just how important he is. Sometimes, it feels like not enough people recognise his importance to them, either.
And that brings me onto a wider point.
Late summer cricket at White Horse in Wiltshire
Every club has a Chris, and this is a tribute to them as much as it is to him.
Without volunteers, grassroots cricket would splutter, stutter and stumble - and that has never been more true than in this most demanding of years.
In June and July, The Cricketer asked the cricket family across the UK to send in nominations for our Lockdown Heroes awards, acknowledging the monumental scale and scope of kindness and compassion exhibited by ordinary, cricket-loving folk during the height of the pandemic's first wave.
The stories we received were truly touching - from children raising funds to keep their team afloat to coaches single-handedly ensuring juniors were not lost to the game at a time when it was all too easy to just give up and stay home.
These tales, and the example of Chris at White Horse, are vital reminders of how and why amateur sport continues to survive and, in many places, thrive. But it also teaches us why we must not allow ourselves to think everything will simply swing back into place once, heaven help us, this wretched disease is countered - be that by vaccine, therapy or effective government.
Volunteers are of course the heart, brain and nervous system of grassroots sport, but too often volunteering can be seen as something others do.
As we emerge beyond the initial impact of coronavirus, it will become more and more important for everyone with a vested interest in the survival and future success of their local club to take a more active role.
If you can, step up and help shoulder the burden: hoover a clubhouse floor, offer to run the website, go to umpire training.
This Covid summer has rammed home just how much is done for so many by a relative few within the amateur sports world. The celebration of those efforts is only right, but real reward for Chris and the hundreds of others like him across the country next year would be to have a little bit less to do.
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