Monday, 2 July 2012

ECB Premier Leagues - time to go?

Twelve years ago, Lord Maclaurin had a vision that was going to improve English cricket. The elite from the counties would play in an ECB Premier League, and the rest would feed into those leagues, should they be good enough. Has it improved the standard? I personally think the opposite. I believe we are losing a generation in club cricket because of this.

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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!

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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.


  1. The two prems near me, Derbys and Notts are basically academy players, ex pros overseas and nearly pros... every team is rumoured to pay lots of money for their players, and every team that goes up into that league comes straight down the next year, the standard is hugely high (saqlain mushtaq was top wicket taker in notts last year) but we think the standard outside of the prem is getting lower as the prem teams just buy the best players. as for sunday cricket, my club is top of our division, and we never warm up, we always have hangovers and we are trying to bring back the fun of AMATEUR cricket!

  2. Several points here don't apply across the whole country BUT I do understand your point. The North Yorkshire South Durham League is playing its first season as an ECB Premier League, however games still start at 1:30pm and finish around 7:30. Strict playing guidelines mean that innings finish when they are meant to otherwise punishment will follow. Standards remain high at this level, but of course the financial incentives available to players, but this exists across amateur football and other of the major sports in the country; hence suggesting that if standards are to be maintained, then money has to be paid out in line with other sports.
    As I am also lucky to be involved with the village/Sunday side of it to, I think it is harsh to say it is dying. I can certainly say in the North East it is very much thriving, with village leagues at what is known as Step 4 in the North East Pyramid still being played as it was in the past. Still players enjoy it on the pitch to a decent standard and visit the local watering hole putting all on-field differences aside over a pint and a bit of grub.
    ALL sport is changing, and it is relative to the time we are in. However it may not all be doom and gloom...

  3. It sounds like both of you play in areas where leagues on Sundays mean competitive cricket. We know of plenty of clubs in London, and big clubs as well that can't put out one side on a Sunday, whilst they put out four or five on Saturdays.

    As for payment, we've covered this previously but it is going to cause huge problems further down the line. Clubs are already merging, going bust etc. I'm not a fan.

    Glad to see both of your clubs like a beer or three! We'd get on...:)

  4. The nature of the cricket has changed but how can the standard be measured?

    Aren't we into the inevitable difficulties of cross era comparions?

    In the late 1970's, I played for Finchley (Middlesex League) in a side that had many ex pros, aspiring pros and others (like me) who had played schools representative cricket but maybe hadn't got into the top stream taking you into the County 2nd X1 domain (I'd played 3 years at Liverpool University at a time when there were no academies and other than Oxbridge, the top sides were Loughborough, Durham and then us and Manchester, Bristol, Southampton etc. etc. In 76, we played Loughborough in the S/F of the UAU and the Colleges had at least 3 players who had already played 1st class cricket, Martin Stovold, Trevor Tunnicliffe and Alan Wilkins).

    Sunday cricket at Finchley was playing one of two 1st teams that played against 1st teams of clubs in leagues other than the Middlesex League. Sides would be a mix of players but against Malden Wanderers (Surrey), they had both Nigel Ross and Duncan Pauline playing (then both of Surrey). Beaconsfield (Thames Valley) also had David Thomas (Surrey and England ODI) playing in the middle of his pro career.

    Went back to Finchley last month and watched a 2nd team Middlesex League match. I thought it was probably a bit better than when I played but I also wonder whether all the flash gear that the players wear makes them look more professional and better when in fact they any or may not be any better???

    The National Knock Out matches were played on Wednesday afternoons, something which is unheard of now.

    Clubs had cricket weeks - Finchley no longer has one.

    There were midweek teams too - Stoics, Malcontents - these have gone now too, I think.

    I get the feeling that we did have more fun and a better camaraderie but even back then, people used to complain about league cricket in general and it sounds as if whatever the powers that be come up with, criticisms unfold.

    I watch CLL cricket at Middleton now (D'Oliviera was pro there in the eraly 60's) and they play 50 overs a side. I often wonder why the ECB leagues don't adopt this as opposed to all the different versions of overs and time that each league seems to be able to construct.

    But back to the original question; how do you measure whether the standard is better? Even if you looked at how many club players could make the transfer into the county game and found that this was greater than before, wouldn't some suggest that this was become the 1st class standard had got worse??? Maybe the debate is a lose/lose one???

  5. Dan an interesting debate. I remember at the time of the ex Mr Tescoes restructure we were playing Herts div 1 cricket. The phrase I used then which was basically what you are describing is that at that level and above "we ae not professional but are aspiring to be so." McLaurin foresaw much smaller squads at counties being supplemented by players called up from the premier leagues. But how realistic was that? Who other than a student or kid can tell their boss they aint turning up for work on Monday as they are playing for Herts at Northumberland? I had a small look at reality when in the lates 90s-early 2000's I was called upto the squad of the Customs and Excise Great Britain side, albeit as a fill in within a 16 man squad. That squad contained many semi-pros and a few ex-pros. But to be called upyou first had to compete in the regional competition meaning that quite a few weeks during the summer you would have 2 days special leave a week playing cricket. In effect anyobe who did so would be ignored when it came to job opportunities or promotion so those playing, some of whom were called up to the civil service side had were really never at work and the demands were too high. At the top club level you are also expected to net regularly, which is tough when you don't get home from work until after nets finishes. My best and most enjoyable and successful days were the early-mid 90's, which is the era you discuss. Club cricket was played hard and fair and was stacked full of characters. From what I know of particulalry first x1 club cricket now that cannot always be said. Along with other things, the change you see drove me out of club cricket to some extent. But things move on for good and bad. I just think those whose profession is the game have forgotten about those whose profession is not and in an ever more competive, demanding 24/7 work place, the leval of committment required is not achievable.