This Saturday it rained, and it rained quite a lot. It was so wet that we and Lisburn agreed not even to try, so I cannot regale you with tales of early teas, or changing-room cricket, or the expected debut of Eaton Park's super sopper roller.


Last Tuesday in Ballymena was Super Tuesday, heralding the annual deconstruction of the rugby set-up at Eaton Park. One week after league fixtures began, one month after some clubs began pre-season friendlies, the ground finally was handed over to cricket. We now have closure, and the healing process can begin.

On this Super Tuesday - my first, given previous academic commitments - the floodlights were retracted, goalpoasts were taken down, dozens of concrete pillars were wrenched from the ground, and about a hundred metres of steel bars were buried beneath the grandstand. It all had a symbolic, cathartic quality - like the toppling of that statue in Iraq in 2003.

All the same, the work was rendered torturous by the weather, which was frigid, windy, and wet. I normally hate going on the roller - indeed, I have studiously avoided all vehicular responsibilities since I reversed the club tractor into George Glass's car in 2011 - but on this occasion it was blissful: the perspex on the machine offered the only shelter from the squalls that kept rolling in off the hills.

Thanks to a relatively kind winter, Eaton Park is in better shape than it has been (at this time of year) for ages. Of course, it is not pristine: grass must grow over the 'sockets' for the lights and posts, while the slope to the left of the pavilion is sandy enough that Omar Sharif and his camel could well be sighted on its peak. Still, things are okay.

The point of relating this story is not to apologize for the inevitably rough outfield that will greet Ardmore next week, but to publicize the enormous amount of work that must go into preparing grounds before and during the season, not just at Ballymena but across the country.

Improving the standard of pitches and outfields in Ireland is a sine qua non for the development of the sport: as I reported from North Down last week, good pitches breed good cricket while bad pitches make allowances for bad cricket. For many clubs in Northern Ireland, however, producing such quality is not always possible.

On a wet and cold patch of land adjacent to the north Atlantic, where cricket pitches matter not to most, survival rather than perfection is the only practicable objective. A few clubs can afford full-time groundsmen and others are lucky enough not to share their turf with other sports. Those who can tick both boxes will likely prosper, while those who cannot

Therefore, the next time you complain about a pitch or an outfield - no matter what the level of cricket - remember that circumstance and not apathy might have determined the state of things. Certainly, clubs could always divert the money spent on their overseas player (and others) into their grounds, but short-termism is hardly a problem unique to cricket.

So here's to the volunteers across the province who, swimming against the tide, give hundreds of hours to the preparation of what many cricketers simply take for granted.


Yesterday I produced live commentary on the T20 match between the Northern Knights and the Leinster Lightning, the latter of whom prevailed by five runs. It was a twisting, turning match and because it was the first day of May the bowlers had a chance, which made the contest even.

Nigel Jones did what he does and smacked length balls over the top, while Gary Kidd bowled superbly (4-0-17-2), but there was a worrying collapse in the middle-order when the young collective made only 6 for 5 off 18 balls.

Leinster finished the two innings the stronger and so deserved to win: Poynter was scratchy but then powerful and his final blows were telling; Mooney and O'Brien produced effective cameos, and Eddie Richarsdon was the best bowler on show, even if Tyrone Kane took a hat-trick.

The whole thing, though, was the victim of public apathy. This was a dry Friday evening on a Bank Holiday weekend, at an easily accessible ground, and in a populous area. They built it, but they did not come.

Before the match started I commented online: "The crowd is gathering at Stormont, they both look excited about the cricket". This was facetious but accurate: only two spectators were in attendance as the teams took the field; at half-time CricketEurope conducted two headcounts that averaged 44.

Even allowing for a few barflies who stumbled upon the cricket, these few - these not unhappy few - did not constitute a crowd. Let's put it in context: in the directly analogous fixture held one week ago and only a few miles away, 17,000 people watched Ulster defeat Leinster.

Attracting neutrals (and even devoted cricketers) to these matches is one of the more significant challenges facing the Unions and Cricket Ireland: the sellout crowds for marquee ODIs (as with next week's match at Malahide) are not indicative of 'cricketing culture' in Ireland. In general, nobody cares.

For instance, in a recent poll on the Northern Knights website, 64% of respondents declared that they had no intention of attending any inter-provincial matches this summer. Remember, this is 64% of people who are sufficiently interested in Irish cricket to visit the Knights' website.

The whole problem was summarized beautifully in a conversation that I overhead between a barman and a patron (dressed in sportsgear, clearly a sports fan) in the Stormont pavilion:

Patron: What's going on here today?
Barman: It's a cricket match between the Northern Knights and Leinster.
Patron: Who are the Northern Knights?
Barman: The cricket team from around here.
Patron: From where?

The Knights meet the North-West Warriors at Stormont on Monday for a one-day match. It's a Bank Holiday - come along, bring the family. Your union/sport/country needs you.