|The cricket warm up in 1990|
Without wanting to sound like an old fogey, when I was a lad back in the day, a cricket team would be a mixture of blokes in their teens, twenties, thirties and the odd one in the forties. The youngsters would do the running around around in the covers, whilst the older members would loiter in the slip region. Some of these were single, some family men, but all good cricketers, good enough to get into the first eleven of the club. We started at 2pm and finished at 7.30pm and then continued to have a few beers with the opposition in the bar, talking about the game, and in some instances, learning about teams you have yet to play that year. Warms up consisted of a fag and a bacon sarnie to wash away the previous nights excesses, and some players even had the odd half of Guinness!
I look now at the average side in a premier league. They are mainly in their early 20's, some even just out of puberty, and their day is about being in it for the long haul. Even a home game, consists of being at the grounds for warm ups at 10am, the morning session, lunch, afternoon session, tea, and the evening session. The games still finish after 7.30, which leaves them no time to have a Lucozade Sport in the bar afterwards.
Factor in an away game, for instance in my local Premier League which is the Home Counties. This takes the elite sides from Hertfordshire, Bucks, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, and in this league you have the scenario of Bishop's Stortford, a club on the Essex border having games against the likes of Oxford and Banbury. This is a two hour journey at best, so these lads must be meeting at 8am in the morning and getting home at close to 11pm at night. Does this exclude the family men in their thirties? I think so, unless you want ear ache from the missus all week!
Playing against quality older players for me, was a learning curve and an experience which was fantastic. Playing against the likes of Dave Mercer, captain of Bedfordshire or Phil Caley at Suffolk, or even ex pros such as Roland Butcher or David Ligertwood, was great for a twenty something like me. These guys were in their late thirties when I played against them, and it is this type of player which is being lost to the club game at the elite level.
Don't even get me started about Sunday cricket, an aspect of the club game once thriving, now dying a slow and inglorious death!
Have the standards got better? With regards to fielding yes. In general though, I don't think we have seen a huge difference, and I wonder if it is time, that those gentlemen at the ECB help clubs in general, and those people in their thirties and forties, back to a sunny Saturday playing the game we all love.