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It’s off! Somerset confirm withdrawal from Cup Match 2021

It remained unclear last night as to whether champions Somerset Cricket Club would be stripped of their title having refused the formal invitation from St George’s Cricket Club to contest Cup Match at Wellington Oval on July 29 and 30.

Vashun Blanchette and Neil Paynter, the presidents of Somerset Cricket Club and St George's Cricket Club (File photograph by Lawrence Trott)

The Royal Gazette reached out to the champions seeking clarity on the matter but did not receive a response by press time.

Months of speculation as to whether the two-day classic would come off ended after it had emerged that Somerset had declined St George’s ceremonial written challenge.

The club said in a statement that they have withdrawn after “much deliberation” over health and safety concerns amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of cricket that they feel “impede the integrity” of the annual two-day match.

The statement reads: “Somerset Cricket Club deeply understands the historic and cultural significance of Cup Match. However, after much deliberation the SCC membership concluded that health and safety concerns pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of cricket impede the integrity of this great event.

“Recent announcements related to the pandemic, along with further delays to the start of domestic league cricket, have informed SCC's position to respectfully decline the official Challenge Letter from St George’s Cricket Club.”

The club said their statement serves as the precursor to any official Cup Match and is one of the deeply rooted traditions that govern the classic.

“It is with a heavy heart that Somerset Cricket Club withdraws from participating in this year’s Cup Match Classic,” the statement added. “Starting as a match played between two friendly societies in 1902 to celebrate the emancipation of slavery, the event has grown in both popularity and scope. Notwithstanding the absence of the official Cup Match Classic, SCC encourages Bermuda to tap into the cultural significance and spirit of the two-day holiday.

“Somerset Cricket Club further wishes to acknowledge the endeavours of St George’s Cricket Club and other stakeholders who have been working tirelessly to formulate proposals for an alternative Cup Match experience.

“In closing, Somerset Cricket Club wish to thank all fans and sponsors of Cup Match for their continued support over the years and look forward to 2022 with cautious optimism.”

Neil Paynter, the St George’s president, has declined to comment at this time.

Noel Gibbons, the former St George’s all-rounder, said it is “unfortunate” the game will not be played but emphasised that the public’s health and safety “must take priority”.

“Both teams had a say in the matter and I think Somerset have raised some valid points surrounding their decision not to play,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate the game is not going to be played because I thought that St George’s were really up for it.

“The whole matter is unfortunate but people’s health and safety must take priority during the pandemic.”

St George’s members were in favour of staging the match at a meeting on Tuesday night.

The East Enders subsequently submitted an official challenge to rivals Somerset, which the latter turned down.

Cup Match was cancelled for the first time in its 119-year history last year because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, as per The Royal Gazette’s revelations last Friday, St George’s had outlined preliminary plans for a scaled-down Cup Match to their members at a Wednesday meeting.

It is understood that the new-look classic would have been open to only 2,000 spectators per day, not including players, coaching staffs and members, and without swaths of the traditional scaffolding.

Cup Match in normal times can attract crowds of up to 7,000 daily, with Somerset claiming in 2018 that they had significantly more than that number on the second day as the cup-holders closed in on an historic innings victory.

David Burt, the Premier, had indicated that Cup Match would be 50 per cent occupancy at best and a SafeKey event, meaning that anyone in attendance would have to be immunised or be able to show proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the date of entry, while physical distancing would have to be observed throughout in keeping with continuing public health regulations.

It is unclear if the SafeKey requirements were to extend to the players and coaching staffs of both clubs — or even if it could have impacted squad selection on the grounds of non-compliance. All of which is moot now.

The prospects of Cup Match being cancelled grew greater at the moment a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic struck the island in March.

It meant that Return to Play guidelines, which were first announced by sports minister Ernest Peets in December 2020 and had already accounted for the premature end of the domestic football season, had to be walked back even further.

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Published June 17, 2021 at 8:18 am (Updated June 18, 2021 at 8:26 am)

It’s off! Somerset confirm withdrawal from Cup Match 2021

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