‘Minor’ Counties Should Not Be Forgotten
The demise of the Gillett Cup/NatWest Trophy/C&G Trophy/Friends Provident Trophy could broadly be described as sensible.
Merged with the Pro 40 and replaced/re-branded as the Yorkshire Bank 40 (or YB40 as it was more commonly known) in 2010, it fell victim to a changing domestic game as T20 grew and schedule demands increased.
It’s place on the landscape had slipped, it’s relevance diminished.
Whilst few will spare a second thought for the competition now, beyond the odd moment of nostalgia, it’s demise also robbed English cricket of a spectacle more important than it was perhaps given credit for – the chance for minor counties to face first class opposition.
It would not be unfair to say most of these meetings were lopsided, with an air of inevitability to them before the first ball was bowled despite many valiant efforts from minor counties sides keen to strut their stuff, perhaps impress a first class outfit and even claim a scalp here and there.
It is not so much the on field action that could be deemed a loss however, but the off field opportunities.
At the risk of drifting in to nostalgia, Wisbech Town Cricket Club has played host to such clashes, with the most prominent in my own mind – mainly because I was 12-years-old at the time and as such it was a ‘big deal’ to have such a game played locally – was the 1997 clash between Cambridgeshire and Hampshire.
The South coast side won easily in the end, but the game presented the opportunity for people in North Cambridgeshire to see Australian opener Matthew Hayden and England’s Robin Smith (who scored 125 for Hants) at a local ground.
For some, this would be one of the few opportunities to see a first class team play. Nottingham, Leicester and Northampton are all around 90 minutes drive from Wisbech; Derby and Chelmsford a little further.
A trip to Lords or The Oval is not out of the question with the East Coast Main Line running through nearby Peterborough, but the reality is many rural fans wishing to see top class domestic cricket in England have to go to some effort to do so.
Whilst the recently unveiled TV deal the ECB has agreed with Sky Sports and the BBC will see professional cricket back on our TV screens in a much more meaningful way from 2020, there should still be a place for fans – especially young ones – in more ‘far flung’ corners of the world to see top class players at their local ground.
Yorkshire may well crush Norfolk if such a meeting were to occur, but the opportunity for fans to see a Ballance, Bairstow or Root (perhaps the latter two more than the former) should not be underestimated.
In a time when sports increasingly overlap with each other, where the behemoth that is football runs for almost 12 months a year, increasing the attachment between fans and cricket is vitally important for the games sustainability and growth.
The ECB has, understandably, chosen to focus on cities with its new Twenty20 competition – but this should not mean more ‘far flung’ areas are forgotten.
If cricket is to flourish, it needs nurturing throughout the UK, not just in a handful of hot spots.