In September 2012 our Club had what most of us will agree was our very best ever weekend! On Saturday 8th September our 1st Xl won away at Dunstable, and for the first time in our Clubs history secured promotion to the Saracens Herts Cricket League Division 1, and the very next day we travelled to Lords and won the Yorkshire Tea National Village Cup Final at the home of Cricket! Nobody who was involved in, or associated with, our Club will ever forget that weekend!
In 2015, we are still operating as a volunteer led club whose teams in the main comprise “home produced players”. So, almost 3 years on from “Lords”, where are we now?
Player wise – bar one – we could field the same 1st Xl today that won the National Village Cup in 2012. Some more good youngsters have come through to the 1st Xl squad, and the previous team, bar one, remain with us. Our 1st Xl squeezed a little further forward in 2013 and finished 3rd in Division 1 in their first season at that level. After a League re-structure they are now playing their League Cricket in the newly formed Saracens Hertfordshire Championship League (equivalent to being at the very top end of the old Saracens Division 1), and we still play in the National Village Cup where in 2014 we went out, somewhat unluckily (damned weather!!), at the last 8 in the inter-county stage.
In the Saracens Herts Championship League in 2014 we performed very well. We finished runners up in the league to a strong Hertford side reinforced that year by a very good Overseas Player seemingly playing well below his true ability level.
Our reward for that effort was to gain the opportunity to partake in a play-off match for a place in the very top division in our county – The Hertfordshire Premier League!
That match proved to be against one of the oldest and longest established clubs in Hertfordshire. The panic stations were seemingly well and truly sounding for our opponents. A 3 line whip on availability was reportedly sounded, and reinforcements were allegedly urgently sought from the ranks of an eastern counties 1st Class County squad, though this failed to materialise when the player claimed to have been lined up to play against us was released by Essex in the week of our match and was apparently too depressed to play in our little Herts League fixture! We lost the play-off match comfortably in the end, but not until we had given our illustrious opponents a severe shock reducing them at one stage to 46-5, only for batsmen playing at No. 7 and below to be capable of taking their total well beyond 200! So we stayed in the Championship League for another year.
We had bumped up against one of the big boys, and they had seemingly almost had to “flex their wallet” to see us off!
And so to 2015. After 5 matches we are doing respectably, lying 5th in the 10 team Herts Championship League ahead of major Club sides like Stevenage and Langleybury. But who do we see flying away at the top of the league? Newly promoted Botany Bay CC – a club with whom we have had a long and cordial playing relationship, with several of our longstanding stalwart Club Members being previous Botany Bay members.
With a 100% win record the Bay are flying – primarily led by their batting prowess where they have to date only lost 15 wickets in 5 matches (7 of those in one game). Closer examination shows that this batting line up is substantially led by 2 recent “arrivals” at the Club from Cambridgeshire/Northamptonshire cricket, both attracted from playing in the Northants and Cambridgeshire Premier Leagues. This follows the previous exodus from Cambridgeshire to “The Bay” of another former Cambridgeshire and East Anglian Premier League star (and pals) from 2012-2014. (He has now returned “home” to Cambridgeshire where he can be found playing his Cricket in a small village south of Cambridge where the Cricket team is not unknown for “recruiting” star players from a healthy sponsors budget.) What can it be about the “air” in Enfield that is so attractive to top Cricket Players from the East Anglian Premier League?
So it seems that even at the relatively modest level of Hertfordshire Championship Cricket, home grown talent is rarely going to be enough to preserve a Club at the upper end of this “Recreational Cricket” (?) for any length of time. We know for a fact that at least 2 of our own players have had approaches from Clubs that wished to make them “offers” to switch allegiance and play elsewhere. Fortunately to date they have chosen to stay with us, at significant detriment to their wallets!
Operating in a financial environment where there is no gate income, no meaningful prize money, and where a Clubs only real revenue is usually Bar Income and Subscriptions / Match fees, it is surprising and amazing that some Clubs “Supporters” / ”Sponsors” / “Managing Committees” are so willing to desecrate and spoil what is supposed to be Amateur/Recreational Cricket with their alleged financial inducements to buy in players.
What glory is there in “buying” your success?
Will many traditional Club Players, for any meaningful period of time, really be happy acting as makeweights, “virtual playing spectators”, “Fielding Fodder” to the stars? The player turnover in these top team Xl’s season by season is usually a clue to the answer ultimately being “No”, as is a frequent antipathy between the 1st Xl and the rest of the Clubs Xl’s.
It might be nice and challenging to prove you can make it to near the top in amateur Cricket, but ultimately if you are not going to join in the financial rat race, then get ready for the frustration of competing on the uneven playing field.
Ouch! I just bumped my head on a Glass Ceiling!!
“Recreational Cricket” probably starts down a Division or two from here!!
So there it is. If the “Money-men” don’t get you then the “Cricket Regulators” probably will!!
But that’s another story!!
(This Occasional column is written by John Heslam Club Chairman of Reed Cricket Club. The views expressed in the article are his own and do not necessarily comprise those of the Clubs General Committee)