With all the discussions lately in NWCU about prospective league restructuring and rule changes, it is worth highlighting where the issue in our sport actually lies.
It is in qualifying cricket.
A quick glance at league tables and scorecards will tell you two things: There are less teams entering. Bready had five teams, Donemana four and Brigade three teams. This is no longer the case.
The teams are of a poorer quality. I have played the majority of my cricket career in 2nd XI cricket. Wind the clock back 10 years, and I can recall playing against the likes of Craig Young, David and Brian Scanlon, Robert and David Rankin, Stuart Thompson, Andy Britton, Andy McBrine and others. They learned how to play the game at 2nd XI before going on to become great senior cricketers in their own right.
Nowadays, the facts are that talented youngster are drifting away from the game because they just donít fancy playing qualifying cricket.
At the other end of the scale, experienced senior cricketers arenít dropping down the leagues because it is no enticing to them.
I captained Ardmore 2nd XI in 2019. It was more of an administrative role than a cricketing one.
A brief glance at the workload:
- Cajole 11 men into playing. This can only be down once the Senior team has been picked. Any unforeseen circumstances or drop-outs, which happen every week, and Friday nights are spent on the phone begging.
- Prepare a wicket to play on and cut the outfield.
- Tea. Each player is expected to bring a fivers worth of sandwiches or buns, and then the captain has to find someone to assemble the tea.
- Come match day, we are pushing the covers on and off, marking the wickets, laying the boundary markers and 30 yard circle. The away dressing room needs swept and readied.
- Have to make sure someone is preparing and serving drinks.
- Umpires. There are none. So two players are required to do rolling 10 over shifts. Their remit is to turn down 95% of appeals and deal with ensuing protests.
- Scorers. Again, itís 10 over shifts marking the book.
- At the conclusion of play, and between innings, there is more groundwork required.
I play cricket because I love it, and love my club. You can see, however, why Qualifying cricket is not exactly an enticing prospect for young cricketers or aging veterans.
I have played a fair amount of senior cricket too in my time, and I can assure you it is completely different. Everything is done for you, you just have to turn up and focus on performance.
At Ardmore, I can think of a fair few youngsters who have drifted away from the game because they donít fancy playing the administrative rigmarole that is intermediate cricket.
At the other end of the scale, some of our retired senior men donít fancy it either. Now, I know a lot of that is just part of the deal and wonít change. At least, though, if there were umpires every week coordinating some of these tasks and overseeing the game, it would reduce a fair bit of the game and make it feel less like a knockabout in the park.
I refuse to accept that the money canít be found, or that there isnít a creative way to subsidise the umpires fee. Itís simple economics, offer a higher rate per game and more umpires will be willing to give up their weekends. £37.50 is not much recompense for a full days work by anyoneís standards.
In five years time, we would see a real effect on Senior cricket. More talented youngsters playing a higher standard of qualifying cricket would help safeguard the quality of our senior leagues.
To our administrators, making qualifying cricket more attractive is an easy fix. Find the money for umpires before carving up our tried and tested structures.