Domestic Matters: Accepting new clubs willy nilly represents growth but wonít improve standard

Thereís a hackneyed pub quiz question, which still continues to ensnare the unwitting know-all, that asks: ďWhat was the most popular sport in Ireland in the early 19th century?Ē At this stage, its novelty is time-worn but the answer remains confounding to many: it is, of course, cricket. But, since the sportís seeds were sown across the island all those years ago, in outlying fields, other games have evolved, blossomed and deprived cricket of the water and sunlight it needed to grow.

Itís been a slow process but only now are those seeds sprouting. New clubs are proliferating in counties and towns traditionally monopolised by our national sport and burgeoning in the very suburbs and areas that one could never have envisaged stumps to be placed hitherto.

Therefore, itís perhaps apposite that the location for the first league fixture of the domestic season, between two clubs that find themselves in the germination stage, was played amongst a jungle of sport. Although not one of Leinsterís most celebrated venues, or idyllic for that matter, Kilbogget Park - home to Cabinteely Cricket Club - is illustrative of the reproduction process the sport has experienced in recent years.

Flanked by a profusion of football and gaelic pitches, surrounded by a conveyor belt of walkers and joggers and enclosed by a multitude of clubhouses, cricket can now be played parallel to our most popular and eminent sports on communal turf once again and not feel out of place.

There is now nothing abnormal about a bowler running in from the playground end or proceedings being temporarily halted because of a wandering canine. Itís a far stretch from the quaint settings of Anglesea Road or Rathmines but this is the sportís roots; the rudimentary grassroot level.

Nevertheless, itís still relatively difficult to grasp that the cricket season is already upon us. The interminable winter months have merged into a fleeting illusion and suddenly weíre rummaging around the attic again for the gearbag. For many, the pre-season groundwork is all but complete as the start line draws ever closer.

The tape has yet to be raised in the top tiers - the first four Divisions donít begin until the weekend of the 26th April - but beneath the surface, the starting pistol has already been fired as the runners and riders vie for early-season ascendancy ahead of the tasking miles that lie ahead between now and September.

One cannot help but marvel at the depth of the leagues and indeed the quantity of players donning the whites each and every week. It seems the augmentation of cricket knows no bounds at the minute but there are underlying cracks. One cursory glance at the scorecard from Cabinteelyís defeat to Lucan and itís hard not to notice the composition of both sides. This is in no way degrading the standard of cricket or disparaging the lower-leagues, but matches between two clubs - with little or no facilities save for an artificial mat and a set of stumps - comprised of twenty-two Asian-born players wonít safeguard the future of the sport.

Itís all well and good having fourteen leagues and expanding the game but this can be attributed to the influx of foreign nationals as much as it is down to the increased popularity and appeal. The newly implemented Player Registration system for 2014 is a case in point.

The fact that only 51% of those registered to play learnt the game in Ireland underlines this very issue with one-third coming from the subcontinent. By no means is this an irritant, let me make that clear, but a host of clubs occupying the lower echelons - and indeed higher Divisions - entirely composed of non-Irish nationals somewhat undermines the need for an improvement of facilities in order to attract the next generation, broaden the playing resource pool and build Ireland as a strong cricketing nation at all levels.

If these clubs can develop into stable associations, become firmly part of the community and achieve longevity then there is no reason why teams comprised entirely of non-nationals cannot become an integral part of the domestic scene but they are big ifs and buts.

Take Old Belvedereís demise as Exhibit A. There simply wasnít any organisation or permanence in Cabra in the lead-up to their extinction and consequently, their junior section has now also gone-under, forcing the next generation to find another club or, just as likely, abandon the sport completely.

Just because there is two dozen Indians or Pakistanis or Sri Lankans residing in a suburb who would be interested in a game of cricket every Saturday, does that alone warrant the establishment of a new club? From Cricket Leinsterís point of view, every club is welcomed with open arms given the extra revenue it generates but is there any criteria clubs have to meet when presenting their manifesto to the LCU?

Fine, if there is strong support from the wider community and not just a certain demographic then setting up a new facility for all ages to play the game will, and always be, embraced but there is a vast disparity between the two. As fantastic as having fourteen leagues in Leinster may seem, surely it would be more beneficial to have ten undiluted divisions comprised of clubs who, firstly have suitable facilities and resources, and have some sort of pillar of support for the long-term.

Itís in the best interest of all to ensure the standard of cricket in Leinster, and indeed the whole country, continues to ascend parallel to the progress made both at interprovincial and international level. Creating clubs willy nilly wonít achieve this.

Who knows, for example, if Castleknock CC or Lucan CC will still be in existence in five years time. Running a club requires a lot of toil and dedication - even if that doesnít extend to ground maintenance - both on and off the field and itís not something that will take care of itself.

At the end of the day, a poky portacabin at the side of an overlong playing area in the middle of a public park, as sufficient as that may seem in the short-term for a newly founded club, are inadequate facilities regardless of the level. It will do for now but if these clubs are to become part of the cricketing community, more will have to be done.

A large problem is finding a suitable ground and an unemployed field in a park fits the bill perfectly. However, the club have no jurisdiction when it comes to maintenance and that is half the problem. Consequently, they often have to fight a war with the council just to get the outfield cut once a week while there is no way of protecting their grounds during the week.

As part of the quest to become a Test playing nation, development starts at the very bottom and there is no point in new clubs forming left, right and centre if they donít have the resources and substance to back their existence up. Itís like developers building an immoderate amount of houses when the going is good. Cricket is as popular here as itís ever been but we shouldnít get carried away by administering the formation of a multitude of clubs; it will all end in tears.

As the season progresses, it will be interesting to keep tabs on the headway made by the aforementioned clubs. Evolution takes time but wonít come about with infidelity - a revolving door of players is another irritant - while sub-standard facilities doesnít help their cause in an attempt to cement their position as a club.

While the top-tier attracts all the brouhaha, itís the lower echelons that requisites the heed if the grade of cricket in Leinster is to really improve and match the headway made at senior level.