Danny Hall’s Column: 64,000 people stopped playing cricket this year. I agree with Michael Vaughan... it’s time to forget money or sponsors and focus on the players

64,000 people stopped playing local cricket this year
64,000 people stopped playing local cricket this year
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It was in conversation with a current Yorkshire League star last season, when one of the current problems engulfing local cricket was made clear.

The player in question had just finished a 60-hour working week and, I suggested, must have been looking forward to a well-earned weekend of rest.

4th August 2009. Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan with youngsters at Leeds Metropoliton Carnegie, as part of one of his summer camps.

4th August 2009. Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan with youngsters at Leeds Metropoliton Carnegie, as part of one of his summer camps.

“You’re joking, aren’t you?” came the reply, in slightly less polite terms.

“We’re at Scarborough tomorrow!”

Sure enough, he and his side made the long trek to Scarborough’s North Marine Road. They drove all the 216-mile journey, spent a long day in the dirt, endured a comfortable defeat and then returned home. By the time he got there, of course, the kids were in bed, the dinner was in the dog and the wife, to put it mildly, was not best pleased.

Well worth it then, I offered with a smile.

“Not at all,” was the serious reply. “I don’t know why I bother.

“But I’ll do it all again next weekend.”

And there, in one conversations, lies both the problem for the local cricket leagues, and also the solution to keeping them going - in the short term, at least.

It is blind faith - every weekend, up and down the country, and in the Sheffield region and beyond - thousands of players drag themselves out of bed, forego a nice day of rest and pull on the whites, to play the game.

Many aren’t even sure why they do it. Some play simply because they are good at it, and enjoy winning.

Others - and there are more of these types than you think - don’t know much more than which end of a bat to hold. But they turn up every week anyway, because they love the camaraderie and spirit which team sports bring. Either that or they love the teas.

My early experience of weekend cricket was somewhere between the two - with a healthy, or unhealthy, love of the teas, too.

I was made into an opening batsman and wicketkeeper, had a decent season and ended up with the league’s batting award at the end of it. But it was about more than that; our team of ramshackle cricketers was full of some of the best characters, and blokes, you could ever wish to meet. Playing alongside them, as a youngster, was an education in more ways than one. And I loved every minute.

Sadly, over the years, for one reason or another, those players drifted away from the club and, in most cases, left the game completely.

With them went the enjoyment. Simply playing the game wasn’t enough anymore and, when this job came up and those free weekends vanished, I shed few tears. And I suspect I’m not alone.

As captain of our club’s midweek side, I think of those days now and then when the game threatens to get too serious. After all, we must play for the fun, because we enjoy it. If not, then what are we there for?

I thought of those days again last week when the findings of an ECB survey were released, showing that 64,000 less people played cricket in 2014, compared to 2013. Around five per cent of games were forfeited because teams couldn’t find enough players.

And, you have to imagine, that situation is only going to become more and more common unless action is taken now. To their credit, the local leagues are doing their bit - the South Yorkshire Alliance clubs are joining the South Yorkshire League to form one ‘super-league’, with 108 teams from 56 clubs. The sheer number of teams, and their geographical locations, could have presented a nightmare for the authorities but, to their credit, they sat down and organised the new structure with travel considerations in mind. Divisions three, four and five, for example, will have ‘East’ and ‘West’ conferences to avoid unnecessary trips.

The league’s fixture secretary painstakingly calculated the travelling distances of every single game to decide whether ‘East’ and ‘West’ would be better than ‘North’ and ‘South’. Let us hope that that hard work and patience is rewarded.

Certainly, there will be nothing of the travelling which became commonplace in the Yorkshire League, as local clubs Sheffield Collegiate and United were faced with weekly trips to the likes of Scarborough, Cleethorpes and Driffield. But discussions are underway aimed at changing that, too.

Quick calculations suggest that a Collegiate player who played every away game, travelling from Abbeydale, drove 1,230 miles last season - the equivalent of Lands’ End to John O’Groats, and back again. The 28.8 hours on the motorway, without traffic, could have been spent doing all manner of other things.

This week, former England skipper Michael Vaughan, a former Collegiate player, raised the prospect of a FA Cup-style Twenty20 competition, including amateur sides and seeded professional ones.

His foresight and understanding begs the question why he is not more involved with making decisions which affect cricket within the corridors of power at the ECB.

At the heart of his suggestion isn’t money, or sponsors.It is the lifeblood of the game - the players who play it. Even if, like my mate, they’re not entirely sure why they do.