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Levelling the Playing Field

You could be forgiven for thinking that Ireland has gone into cricketing hibernation but I’m assured there is much work going on behind the scenes. While efforts to secure competitive cricket for the men and women before Christmas seem to have been ongoing, debate is raging about the best way forward to level the playing field when it comes to the interprovincial set-up.

While nothing official has been announced, it seems that a fourth team could well be another Dublin based one. What form the side takes remains an ongoing discussion. Will they participate in T20, 50 over and 3-day competitions, will it see Leinster carved up, what does it mean for Munster Reds? So many questions.

What all parties seem to have acknowledged is that the present format isn’t working and far from the best versus best desired by the powers that be. How to achieve that has produced what the politicians would describe as a frank exchange of views. Leinster naturally don’t wish their all-conquering juggernaut broken up into sections. The Warriors, while recognizing their weaknesses don’t see the remedy as being fobbed off with Leinster ‘rejects’.

The latest position indicates a possibility of the 20 Irish contracted players being equally split among the sides. I’m not sure the practicalities of that scenario, but it would seem a good starting point for equality.

The other bugbear the NW are pursuing at the moment is equality in coaching resources. Cricket Ireland’s main men are based in Dublin and Belfast, meaning naturally that is where the majority of their time and coaching is taking place. Last week, the two North West based contracted players Craig Young and Andy McBrine travelled for sessions in Belfast rather than the North West – Mohammed going to the mountain rather than the other way around.

Jordanstown has quickly developed into an excellent facility, where a number of joint ventures between the Ulster University and the NCU have seen the establishment of not one but two halls with four-bay nets, a 3G facility for training and fielding, plus the use of two state of the art Merlin and Trueman bowling machines. This funding has been raised by the NCU, independently of Cricket Ireland.

The NCU has also assembled a total of £100,000 worth of ground equipment and coverings that can be used by all clubs in the region, going on a trailer where and when it is needed to ensure maximum play and the best condition for grounds and pitches hosting major matches.

It will be interesting what transpires from the negotiations, but the North West natives are reportedly very pleased at the tough stance taken by Chairman Brian Dougherty and General Manager Peter McCartney which they feel will guarantee an excellent outcome for the beleaguered area.

Shooting the Darkness

There was an excellent RTE/BBC NI documentary this week called ‘Shooting the darkness’ which told the story behind some of the most iconic images taken by photographers during the troubles in the province. As you would expect there was an equal mix of professionalism, luck, bravery and being in the right place at the right time. There were some incredible stories and you couldn’t help be moved by some of their feats.

It reminded me of conversations in 2007 at the World Cricket League in Kenya, where the ICC had hired a local photographer to cover the tournament. The Kenyan snapper came with a great reputation, having won a Pulitzer Prize no less for his images in the aftermath of the USA Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Just before the start of the first game with Ireland playing Scotland, he duly arrived just as the umpires and Scotland were taking the field. He looked at me with the long lens, then looked at the boundary rope, appearing a little puzzled.

“What is the rope for?” he asked.

He had never covered a cricket match before, knew nothing about the game, and was only being paid for an hour of his time each day. Having arrived with a short lens the first day was wasted.

Over the course of the competition I tried to explain to him what was going on, and he in turn told me of some of the horrors he had photographed in his career, with the most notorious being the aforementioned embassy bombing which saw 211 killed.

That week he didn’t capture any Pulitzer Prize winnings photos, being hampered by the fact that he usually shot the first hour of the day when little seemed to happen as teams preferred to build innings the old-fashioned way, keeping wickets in hand for a late charge rather than attacking from the off.

I did manage to get one very controversial photo which I dubbed the £250,000 mistake, after Roger Dill failed to spot the fact that Craig Wright had been run out, enabling Scotland to win the game and set them on the path to qualification for the 2007 T20 World Cup and the prize money that came with it.

Craig Wright is run out©CricketEurope

Not a Pulitzer Prize winner though…

Teas

There was much media debate this week about the decision of the Sussex League to scrap the obligation of the home team to provide teas for their opposition in an attempt to save both money and time.

From a purely selfish perspective this seems to me a bad move, further serving to keep players and spectators from mingling. A compromise may be to provide some fodder after the match, encouraging debate over a beer and a few sarnies?

We are spoiled in Ireland with some of the hospitality and food on offer amongst the best that I have encountered in a lot of cricketing globetrotting. For me though, it’s as much about the people and the welcome as the food. It’s the gesture of being thought of that holds the value.as much as the fayre on offer.

The NW may be poor in terms of performance but their clubs rank high in hospitality, while a favourite for me in the LCU, like many, has to be The Hills. The people, the welcome, the ground, scones, roast dinners. It just ticks all the boxes for me and you get the sense of pride that they have for their beloved club.

Internationally, I loved the Channel Islands grounds, plus I found Scotland to be pretty decent. Lord’s and the Oval were on a different level to anything I’ve experienced with catering on a five-star level. At the other end of the scale I found Sri Lanka very poor when covering the U19 World Cup in 2006. On 21 consecutive days cold chicken with rice and an apple, all served in a cake box.

At least though they offered food, in comparison to The Netherlands last year during the Under 19 World Cup Qualifier, with the ICC honchos refusing to cater for any press. They of course filled their boots. I’m glad to say the person responsible has moved to pastures new. Maybe the Sussex League!

The Titanic

I always like to have a light-hearted end to the column so I’ll finish with this anecdote. As part of our Irish Umpires features, Connie McAllister will be in the spotlight soon and while on the subject of food and drink, this seems apt.

While having a tipple in his local bar, he asked for some ice to accompany his libation. The barman apologized, saying there was none available as the machine was broken.

“For God’s sake, that’s desperate,” said Connie.

“What difference does it make? Sure it doesn’t matter about a bit of ice,” the barman replied.

Never stuck for a reply, Connie came back with the immortal line: “Try telling that to the captain of the Titanic.”

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