Friday, 6 December 2013

End of ECB Premier Leagues?

In a small county to the north of London, a breakaway from one of the ECB Premier Leagues has sent ripples not just through national club cricket, but actually within the county. The Middle Stump look at whether it is the start of a nationwide trend to include a better standard of player.

A regular Sunday morning scene for many a cricketer!

Ten years ago the Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League's top clubs, along with their counterparts to the West decided to form an elite league, known as the Home Counties League to become one of the ECB's Premier Leagues. This was designed to produce better players for the county system, which in turn provides better players for the England side. The top clubs from Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire would play each other with an East (Herts) and a West Division (the others) feeding into this league. Sensationally, the Hertfordshire clubs decided to leave during a recent meeting and we wonder if this is a good or a bad thing?

There are two schools of thought: The first is that standards have improved over the last ten years. Between them the HCPL and Herts League have provided the likes of Steven Finn and Monty Panesar to the England team. In addition, the likes of Jack Brooks at Yorkshire, Gareth Berg at Middlesex, Dave Murphy and Rob Keogh at Northamptonshire, are all alumni of this system. Ashton Agar was another plucked from this league before making his debut versus England last year. At the other end of the scale you still have the likes of John Emburey plying his trade in one of the top divisions, still as parsimonious as ever. The standard is decent.

Brooks...the Headband Warrior is a product of the HCPL

Without a doubt the cricket has got better but what about the mileage? Bishop's Stortford CC are situated in the North East of Hertfordshire and with all day cricket, a game against Oxford for an 11am start is a logistical nightmare involving a one way journey of a hundred miles or so. Gone are the days of turning up at 1.25 for a 1.30 start, where pre-match warm ups would consist of a bacon sarnie and a Marlboro Light. These guys now warm up, stretch, have fielding drills and throw downs (although in my day it was throw up!) for god knows how long, and I should imagine a two hour journey would mean meeting at your own club at around 8am.

As any club cricketer who has ever been in a relationship knows, leaving so early in the day and getting back at night makes you as popular with the missus, as Michael Clarke in the England dressing room at present. While she is at home with the kids all day, or no doubt with her coupled up friends - where the hen pecked (although in her eyes, normal) husband spends his weekends doing the DIY - you are out playing the game that you love. This tends to foster resentment and disharmony amongst couples, funnily enough.

After a quick energy drink, the youngsters of these ECB Premier League clubs, hop back in their cars before getting home at around 10pm. Naturally for the old school cricketer who wants to have a beer and talk with the opposition, the time would be even later, no doubt leading to the sort of words from your partner as Geoff Boycott used when his partner, Ian Botham ran him out in New Zealand in 1977. Then, having scored a duck, had a four hour round trip around the M25, you spend your Sunday getting blanked by the other half, whilst contemplating if it is all really worth it? No wonder divorce rates are so high in cricket.

Finn and Panesar...straight out of the Saracens Herts League

So, many club cricketers have left the modern game by their early thirties. This is the time when certain players such as batsmen or spinners tend to be at their peak. Has it made the game stronger?

When the Premier League system was set up ten or so years ago, the grade cricket system in Australia was religiously serenaded by those in the powers-that-be of the English game. Whatever they did, we had to copy to keep up. Ian Chappell recently lamented the slipping standards in that competition due to the lack of senior players in Sydney and Melbourne competitions. Youngsters wouldn't get the chance to prove themselves against senior players due to the long time frame of matches like they did back in his teenage years, wrote Ian Botham's punchbag, in the Sunday Telegraph. This has led to weaker standards all the way up to the national team Down Under, and I am wondering whether we are starting to see the effects, this side of the equator too? It may be coincidence, and all teams are cyclical in producing good sides, but the likes of Stuart Law and Co. who were rarely capped for the Baggy Greens, were far better players than the likes of Warner or Bailey. Whether or not, Chapelli is right after the way they have batted in the current series compared to our lot remains to be seen, but he makes a valid point.

Stuart Law...would have had more caps if he had been born ten years later

Cricket changes all the time, and whether smaller geographical leagues produces stronger cricket by attracting the older players with families back to the game or whether the bigger leagues providing more competition for the better youngsters is the way forward, only time will tell.

Ask one of the Saracens Hertfordshire League players in a few years, and I am sure he will be able to tell you.

If not, ask a matrimonial lawyer!


  1. Assuming that all young cricketers don't hang around for a pint or socialise with their club is a ridiculous and stupid assumption that is not borne out by fact in most cases.

  2. Where did I say ALL young cricketers? Assuming is a dangerous game Chris. The fact is that players do not socialise together after a game as much as they did twenty years ago. Anyone who plays club cricket will tell you that.

  3. Players can no longer have 2 or even 3 pints and drive home, as they used to a decade ago. And yes, with up to a 2 hour drive home in busy Saturday evening traffic, I would expect players want to leave as soon as possible.

    There is a big gap between the semi-professional nature of Division One of the Home Counties, where teams have multiple paid players, and teams entering Division Two for the first time (Horspath, Shipton, Great Tew) who do not have the finances to do this. It's almost as big a jump as between the Home Counties and the top divisions of the feeder leagues.

    The Home Counties has made half of the season 50 overs (and is introducing Duckworth Lewis this year) to try and help alleviate some of these issues (and encourage the Hertfordshire teams to stay, which it obviously didn't).

    I'm a very very average cricketer in the lower leagues, but I find it strange that players are ready to commit to arriving two hours before a game, and have an hours warm-up and throw downs, but don't attend any practise midweek - perhaps they're having to work the extra hours they're losing from their Saturday morning.

    In short, there are multiple factors affecting this situation. The ECB is trying to raise standards, which is great on paper, but these cannot be forced if the playing numbers (and indeed quality) do not actually exist.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. Definitely agree about the big gaps. I find it astonishing how much money is about in club cricket!

  5. I think what got forgotten 10 yrs ago was the ever increasing demands of work in the technology driven 24/7 era. Also as many of us know due to hyper house price inflation in the London and South East, many thousands have been displaced from London. I for one being killed by the cost and time of commuting do not wish to replicate the same at weekends. As a 2 day cricketer for many years the appeal of a local Sunday game could not be over estimated. People forget we are/were amateurs striving to be more professional not professionals. I do make an exception for Dan as he once claimed to be a professional sportsman before an amateur fixture!

  6. To me the travel issue shouldn't be ignored but it isn't the main problem. As already mentioned HC Prem clubs are paying lots of money to players. Apart from the odd overseas, can this really be right? That money is going straight out of the game and into pockets. Instead it should be spent on youth development, improved coaching (full time coaches) and facilities. No point spending 10k on your first team and £0 on the rest of the club!. Clubs as a whole have to improve to create a genuine improvement in standards. As evidence, particularly in the north you see 2 team clubs in name only. 1st team are superstars and 2nd XI are makeweights. What you end up with is the 12/13/14/15th player into the 1st XI being a weak cricketer. Eventually when several are pushed in you see a series of shocking results. That's why the current model doesn't work.

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