Time for change in NW?
Lawrence Moore (CricketEurope)
The North West Cricket Union's domestic season enters its penultimate weekend this Saturday and the list of semi-finalists for the four senior tournaments has players and supporters praying that the weather holds up.
The senior cup line-up looks particularly mouth-watering with rejuvenated Coleraine going to serial cup winners Donemana while holders Brigade are away to a Bready side who would be a real threat if in the mood.
It's the same the whole way down the list too and it has the makings of a quality last couple of weeks to the summer.
Having those four teams in the semi-finals would suggest that even though there were exciting matches and some shocks along the way, even in the reduced T20 format, the cream rose to the top.
There were of course hard luck stories; Newbuildings in particular can feel aggrieved not to have made it to the senior cup. They pushed Brigade every inch of the way and their day won't be long coming.
And while we can now look forward to the last couple of weeks, there are huge decisions waiting to be made this winter.
In the past few seasons, T20 cricket competitions had become little more than a hindrance to senior clubs. Most gave fringe players their chance in these competitions, if indeed they even turned up at all.
In April of this year you would have got long odds that there would be any competitive cricket here this summer. And really long odds that we'd have two T20 senior cup semi-finals featuring arguably the top four teams in the region.
It has been a truly remarkable effort from all involved- not just those night after night committee meetings on Zoom but also player meetings, club meetings, captains meetings and umpires meetings.
Quite simply, the North West did what it does best- it decided it wanted to play cricket, and play it did.
In the main though, we have to be honest- we're not usually great at embracing change.
Some people (!) have been pushing for earlier starts/finishes here for many years. We've been haemorrhaging playing numbers in our sport for a long time and although all sports are struggling for participation numbers these days, none of the others take the best part of eight hours to play.
Until recently we were starting matches at 1pm meaning often players and officials getting home after 9pm on a Saturday night.
That may have been forgiveable 20 years ago, but the world is a different place now, and it certainly is going to be for the forseeable future.
We had to change this year- we were forced to change if we wanted to play cricket- and lo and behold, most people loved it. Competitive games of T20 cricket, starting at 2pm, over by 5.30, everybody free to return to a social/family night with time to spare.
The burning question now of course is where we go from here, once this season is over. Do we now have the proverbial 'blank canvas' to determine our own future?
No-one knows what the rest of this year or indeed 2021 will bring, but the one lesson of 2020 in domestic cricket teems at least is that we need to move with the times.
I don't believe we'll ever see a complete end to 50-over cricket when the time is right, and that's how it should be.
Here's the thing though- few youngsters want to play 50 over cricket and most of the 'oul hands' have a peeved partner to deal with if they land home at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night.
Key parts of this season also included no overseas professionals, no double headers on Saturdays and Sundays and crucially, no relegation.
Before this season, some clubs were busting their bank on bringing a 'pro' in the sole hope of avoiding relegation. This season gave some of them a chance to blood their youngsters instead, without having to look over their shoulders.
They were able to use what little money they had wisely and not blow it all on simply staying put.
In overall terms, no-one has all the answers about where we go from here, but everyone at least now knows we can make different things work.
Fifty over cricket will return, and that's fine. Maybe it should be just in the Premier Division though and make that the target for players who desperately want to progress in the sport.
And if you want to play 50 over cricket badly enough you can start games at 11am so that everyone can still have their life as well.
Below the Premier Division, Championship games could be 35-40 overs starting at 12 keeping the Sam Jeffrey and senior cups as 50 over competitions if necessary. Also, we might consider going without overseas players for a season or two in the Championship. Most sides did ok without them this summer.
Below that, 20-25 overs is plenty for youngsters coming into the game.
As officials, it would be our duty to ensure that leagues were competitive without having clubs constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of relegation.
There are loads of ways that can be done and one of the other things we've been hankering after for a while is forming two senior divisions to include all first XI's.
In recent years we looked at promoting one of the Qualifying teams like The Nedd, Sion Mills or North Fermanagh to.make the numbers even. On hindsight it was an unfair ask that one team come up and pit themselves against established Championship sides.
The more obvious solution is to promote them all so that they're also competing against each other as well.
This year, 2020 has been a horrendous experience for everyone, however it brought us right back to basics.
We played cricket for the sport, for the enjoyment and to make the very best out of the hand we were dealt.
I know how hard my colleagues on the local committees worked on getting a competitive season up and running and how much the players, the clubs, groundsmen, umpires and volunteers all bought in to making it work.
It is absolutely essential now that we go forward with that, and not back.
Good luck to one and all for the upcoming semi-finals and finals.