Andrew Blair White (CricketEurope)
Franchise Cricket to benefit young Irish Cricketers
Considering the amount he has contributed to Irish cricket, it would be silly not to listen when Alan Lewis expresses some of his ideas for the future.
The former Irish captain and more recently chairman of selectors, feels that the interprovincial structure must undergo a shakeup to benefit Irish cricket to its full capacity.
His suggestion is quite simple, franchise cricket.
The brands are already there. All three provincial formats have been monopolized by Leinster since the competitions began in 2013, only two of the fifteen have slipped out of their grasp.
This is not Lewis’ concern though, more so that some talented young players perhaps might not get the game time that they deserve and require. Lewis has always been of the opinion that he “wanted to watch the best 33 players” in the interprovincials, however, will that ever happen using the current system?
Lewis recalls the time when Kyle McCallan retired from the Irish team at the age of 34. The question was, how can someone of his quality be replaced. What this did was open the door for the seventeen year old, George Dockrell, who immediately filled those massive shoes left for him.
Lewis believes that “If you put certain players at a level, they will rise to it.” Therefore, should some of the latest crop of young players just returning from New Zealand be playing in these interpros? The answer a categorical “Yes”. The interpros need to see the three outstanding contributors in that tournament; Tector, Rock and Little, wherever they play.
Franchise cricket is something that won’t suit everybody, especially the way Lewis wants it done. The Cork native is adamant that it should remain a three team competition. A fourth team would “dilute the amount of players likely to be playing for Ireland” within this series.
The best is required, the current and future Irish stars need to play against each other is the message he is trying to convey. If the pool gets bigger fine, but for the time being its just right. Munster playing in the T20 has been an incentive for them.
The fact that the series has been so lopsided over the years is of no fault to the original organisers of it. However, people must at this stage finally realise that for the good of the competition, Leinster need to be challenged.
That thought process coincided with the fact that the majority of the good young players (Jack & Harry Tector, Josh Little, Neil Rock, Stephen Doheny and David Delany) represent Leinster, gives good grounds for some change. Lewis feels that playing for a different provincial side and getting more game time could be a “major lifeline for a player”.
He talks about how you could go to a different side and become a proper “influencer”, it’s an interesting idea, yet very tough to execute. Even the thought of a teenage Dubliner being asked to play his home matches up in Bready might leave many scratching their heads.
“It would show a lot about the player and I sense there are one or two chomping at the bit to do so. There is a desire to become a professional cricketer. Couple that with mixing with some of the best players must be good for a players game” was Lewis’ response to that inevitable line of questioning.
He also dismisses the notion of it being deemed a ‘rejection’, a “policy decision” is the more correct way to interpret the events. It all comes back to the same main focal point, “the best 33 players in Ireland, being in that mix”.
Another potential conundrum to deal with if implementing any plan close to this, would be the Northern teams take on it. Obviously, if you were to bring up two or three new players onto the side, you are having to drop existing players. Lewis doesn’t see this as a negative and doesn’t want the idea of franchise cricket to be clouded by negativity. “It would make selection harder and there would be more genuine competition for spots”, this point is valid and could potentially inspire greater performance from everyone.
“This is no different to when Bray, Johnston, Cusack, Lanky and Botha came into the international side in 2006. It raised the bar for everyone else. Porty went on a 6 week trial to the UK when a player got injured and the rest is history!! You have to dare to dream.”
Is this situation any different and it is already on our own doorstep? With all these decisions it does inevitably come down to where the line gets drawn culturally. Would the North West really want three Leinster players with them? Maybe not, but perhaps their outlook might change if they ended up a season winning some silverware. It’s the risk with the reward, sometimes you have to swallow your own pride just a small bit. Whether it will be a decision that either party will ever have to make remains to be seen, but for the good of the competitive nature of the series, it would be advised.
One final thing Lewis appeared very disappointed by was the new contracts given and driven by the Irish Cricketers Association.
“I can’t believe they did not include any interprovincial or women players” was one of his chief remarks, alluding to the superb efforts from Kim Garth and Isobel Joyce in the women’s Big Bash. Along with this, the Interprovincial contracts were underwhelming in his eyes.
He added that it all seemed “rather strange, we all want to share in this journey.” Decisions on the Interprovincial structure being made this year seem very unlikely but it is something that Cricket Ireland may look into. If you have the right fit of a keen young Leinster player and an abiding North West or Northern team, why not get them involved.
As much as we could debate, we all actually want the same thing, the best solutions for Irish Cricket. Cricket Ireland has made some fantastic steps recently in improving all aspects of their programme, but the next step needs to be taken.