COLCHESTER and East Essex Cricket Club’s players will be encouraged to play with a smile on their face when they finally embark on their new premier division campaign this weekend.

The Castle Park side will travel to play Shenfield on Saturday in their Shepherd Neame Essex League Gooch Division curtain-raiser, after cricket was given the green light to return following the lifting of the government’s Covid-19 restrictions.

Colchester, who were promoted as division one champions last season, are looking forward to their return to the top flight.

And ahead of the nine-week season starting, the club’s director of cricket Julian Russell said: "We're encouraging all of the players to go out and enjoy it, express themselves and remind ourselves of what we love about the game.

"Starting this weekend, we'll be encouraging everyone to go out and play with a smile on their face.

"It probably isn't going to be seen as the same season as if it had been played throughout.

"But we're definitely looking at it almost as an elongated pre-season.

"We're going to now have nine really good fixtures, we've got great availability because in the main, people aren't going away too much, we're going to have strength coming from our youth areas.

"It's been a really unusual and terrible time for the country and cricket is just a small part of what's been disrupted.

"We've heard from all sorts of people how much they miss cricket and what cricket means to them, so to be able to put on games and have the club come back to life in a modified format is great.

"We've already seen that it brings joy and brings people together which I think we've been crying out for so certainly from that perspective, we're delighted to have half a season, if it turns out to be that.

"We feel quite lucky that we've been able to get the second half of the season going.

"It's a season we'll remember for as long as we play cricket and hopefully it's for good reasons come the end of the summer where we'll think 'we still got something out of that'.”

Colchester’s cricketers have had around half a dozen training sessions since returning to training last month, as they adapt to the new protocols in place.

They had a trial match last Saturday with measures in place related to what needs to happen when cricket restarts.

"It's come together reasonably quickly,” added Russell.

"We obviously haven't been able to prepare as much as we normally would.

"But there's an over-riding feeling of us just getting out there and playing and making sure that we're doing it safely.

"The protocols are sensible - things like sanitisation breaks.

"They're things that you wouldn't normally associate with a game of cricket but in other walks of life we've all got used to things like keeping our distance, washing hands and wearing masks at appropriate times so it's an extension of that with cricket.”