The North West domestic cricket season may still be very much in its fledgling stages but for a good number of people involved in the sport throughout the region there has been little time to recharge the batteries before going again. The Union's “think tank” kicked into action pretty much as soon as the last wicket fell in the 2011 campaign and the result has been a major overhaul both on and off the field. Make no mistake about it, this was needed (and how), and even at this early stage it is clear that the changes are being embraced, by and large. A lot of the new stuff had become necessary, both in terms of bringing us into line with the sport across the globe and for the good of Irish cricket generally. Into that category would be 8-team leagues, use of Duckworth Lewis, earlier starts and an overhaul of the administration set up.
Other amendments were aimed at making the game easier to sell, both to spectators and players and these included power-plays, new competitions, coloured clothing and free hits. The third grouping looked at ways to tighten the game up and included online scorecard submissions, divisional re-structuring and rule changes and despite the fact that we're just heading into the third week of the season the results are already palpable. The new Cricket Statz programme on the CricketEurope Ireland site is proving a huge success under David Doey and Trevor Harper and all in all you feel that this could be the shot in the arm that the game here needed.
With every new concept comes a new responsibility however and it is now imperative that the early momentum is not only maintained but driven on. The progress made has been rapid and while that will level off after the first few weeks it is absolutely vital that a continued monitoring process is in place so that the various committees can sit down with hard evidence over the coming winter and know what worked and what didn't. Because while there is a fresh feel to the start of the 2012 season there still remains pressing concerns in other departments. We now have a cricket operations committee made up mainly by players from within the clubs and they have done a superb job in looking after the implementation of the new regulations as well as registrations and starrings.
We also have a development committee responsible for ensuring that a solid structure is in place both for young players coming into the sport and those involved in under-age representative cricket. And we have a finance committee put in place to do the most difficult job of all given the current climate. If there is one aspect of the new regime that needs a few volts injected it is that one as, and forgive me if I'm wrong here, to the best of my knowledge the finance committee hasn't met yet. Finance is a huge issue in any organisation but there remains so much work to be done for this group that it is difficult to know where to start. Jim Lindsay has carried the burden of North West finances to magnificent effect almost single-handedly for the past 20 years and there is never a penny unaccounted for when our books are audited every April.
The downside to that means that so many finance avenues have remained unexplored due to simple time constraints therefore monies into North West coffers are provided by either our main sponsors or our clubs. And therein lies a massive challenge for the new committee. For the life of me I have never understood why clubs all pay the same fee to the Union. Bready, a shining beacon of North West cricket pays pretty much the same fees with their five teams as North Fermanagh or Crindle do. That is in no way a criticism of the Magheramason club who are at the top end of those working their socks off to build a better cricket base in our region by the way, it is merely an example of where we are.
Clubs who can bring in professionals and who insist on getting the top umpires pay the same fee as clubs who don't and don't. There is neither rhyme nor reason to it. Everyone will have their own ideas about what can be done to change that but surely the main aim should be to bring new finance into the game and ease the huge burden that clubs are facing season on season. A starting point might be to have a (much lower) base fee for clubs and introduce percentage add ons for things like bringing in a professional or specific umpiring requirements.
The finance committee of course isn't the only one with its work cut out as there will be plenty of hurdles to be cleared by the others along the way. The first real issue for the Operations committee has recently begun after Coleraine requested permission to play Jarred Barnes, a 22- year old South African born student who has recently moved to Northern Ireland to live with friends here who had followed the same path. The operations committee, wary of the “no more than one overseas player/ student visa entrant” regulation ruled that Jarred couldn't play first team cricket but by way of compromise allowed the Bannsiders to play him in the seconds while the committee had a look at him.
A spokesman for Coleraine said “Jarred is a big strong fella who is very adept at most sports but he has absolutely no cricket pedigree and has only ever played at a school and recreational level. He looked useful enough in the nets without being any kind of Decker Curry and knowing that we will be missing several players for our Club Turf game away at CIYMS we thought we would register him. We're not even sure he would play in the firsts under normal circumstances but he might be able to do an odd job as a lower order batsman or third or fourth change bowler. The irony that we can't play him against CIYMS would be funny if it wasn't so frustrating. There is no difference between his case and that of a growing number of Indian nationals playing at St Johnston and Ardmore but he is being treated differently. He is in exactly the same mould as Symo Ngcobo whom we brought to Coleraine a few years ago in the exact same circumstances. The lad is here as part of a church based programme so we really don't understand the reaction. It would take two minutes to check him out on the cricket archives and see that he has never featured anywhere”.
The Operations committee however certainly don't want to end up red faced in case the South African turns out to be top notch after being given the green light by them so they have come up with their plan to monitor the player and review their ruling accordingly, possibly at the end of May. That shows a real common sense approach but it also shows that we need a hard and fast rule in place whereby every single club is aware of any requirements on non-nationals playing in the leagues.
As we head into the first round of the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup this weekend there is a very palatable sense that things are on the move in North West cricket. A most unkind draw has probably put paid to that manifesting itself numerically on the big stage straight away but our new friends Duckworth and Lewis might well have a hand in re-dressing the balance now that the taps have been turned off for a few hours. The original gang of seven deserve massive thanks from within cricket circles here for their gargantuan efforts over the winter and the new generation of cricket that follows will, I trust, be their reward.
The field is beginning to level again.