"Twelve team Premiership a mistake," says Jones.
Ian Callender (Sunday Life)
A 12-team Premier League appears to be a non-starter if the top clubs in the NCU have their way.
Proposals from the Domestic Directorate to increase the current eight-team set up are set to go ahead but 10 teams seems to be the likely compromise to ensure there is no dilution in the standard.
Nigel Jones, captain of last year’s all-conquering CIYMS side which made a clean sweep of the three NCU trophies, has no doubt it would be a mistake to bring up four teams into the top section.
“I settled here in 2006 and the Premier League, in my opinion, is the strongest it has ever been. And the gap between 1st and 2nd XI cricket is just night and day.
“The proposal for change said that a 12-team league would provide more opportunity for local, young players to contribute; encourage the investment of youth for all clubs as younger players will get greater chances/game time; and help keep 18-25 year olds in the game as they get opportunities to contribute and succeed at Premier League level, compared to playing second team cricket.
“But that’s not going to happen. The best cricketers want to play and we will get mismatches, when the top four or five play the bottom four, I fear considerable mismatches. And the best youngsters are playing at the bigger clubs already. I just don’t see the benefit.”
Jones, admittedly speaking from the top of the pyramid, says that a 10-team league – with each side playing the other once before top five split and finish the season with a game against the other teams in their half - would be a more realistic option for the playing standard across the leagues and although it would mean one fewer game than present there would still be plenty of cricket.
“The better teams would still have a 30+ game season if they do well in the Irish Cup and Challenge Cup, while for teams who get out in the early rounds, they still have 13 league games plus the T20 league, giving you a decent season,” he added.
The original plan was for the new structure to be in place for next year but with no indication when or even if this season will start, the NCU board agreed at their meeting last week that although final proposals – and there is an “overwhelming” consensus for change from the member clubs – will still be brought to this year’s AGM, they will not come into force until the 2022 season.
Hopes of when or if cricket can begin in Northern Ireland this year have been frustrated by the absence of dates in the roadmap to easing the lockdown by the Northern Ireland Executive – unlike their counterparts in the Republic where Step 1 begins tomorrow – but with Step 2 here involving training in small groups, Jones remains optimistic for action this season.
“It feels like the next couple of weeks, maybe the end of the month, we should know a little bit more and from June we could at least have training of some description.”