Watson’s Words . . . On LOCAL Cricket!

A fitting finale, or papering over the cracks?

The 2018 Pembrokeshire cricket season finished in upbeat fashion, with plenty of love and respect flying around.

Neyland, Haverfordwest, Cresselly, and ultimately Lawrenny contributed to a thrilling Division One title race that remained in the balance as the clock struck 8pm on the final day.

In other leagues, promotion and relegation issues went to the wire, and local intrigue continued through to last Sunday as Neyland contested a Welsh Cup final in Sophia Gardens – while at the same time the Ormond Youth competition culminated at Carew.

Even now we’re not quite done, with the Haverfordwest Under 19s T20 side vying to reach the national finals this weekend when they travel to play Cardiff CC.

Social media post was eye-catching

But amidst the wave of positivity on social media as teams were congratulated and club officials thanked, there was one post that caught my lasting attention. And it offered a sobering reminder of the problems the game in Pembrokeshire, and beyond, face trying to move forward.

It was a tweet from Lyn Rees, who ahead of an important Division 3 game between Herbrandston and Neyland 2nds, was lamenting the unavailability of some of the latter’s younger players. The reasons given it seems, were less than irreversible.

To take this occurrence in isolation would be naive. Lyn’s words simply summarised an issue that plagues numerous local cricket sides week in, week out.

And nor is the problem confined to one sport alone. Ask anyone involved in grassroots football and rugby in the county, and they’ll speak of the same conundrum.

Good at the top but with apathy creeping in elsewhere

The apathy towards cricket though has gradually seen the structure reduced from seven leagues to five – and next season the bottom two divisions will compromise of nine teams, as opposed to the standard ten.
As often the case, there is little wrong with the quality at the top end of the scale. Throw Carew back into the mix next season, with Whitland and Lawrenny also capable of challenging, and the standard amongst Pembrokeshire’s stronger Division 1 sides looks high.

And if our best teams are gracing venues like Sophia Gardens or Lord’s (albeit at indoor level), then we can’t be too far behind the rest.

Some good signs in All Stars introduction

The introduction of All Stars has worked wonders in building enthusiasm for the game amongst boys and girls, and only rain prevented the best senior female players from representing Pembrokeshire in August.

But scratch below the surface, and problems with player availability, commitment, and umpire numbers arise.

Having good turn outs when youngsters participate in kwik cricket festivals is one thing, keeping them attached to the game through to Under 19 and then senior level appears to be another.

Not so strong in youth cricket though

At junior level, our county sides regularly hold their own in regional matches, and this summer the Cleddau Crusaders were deservedly crowned Welsh Under 19 T20 champions in a final delayed from 2017.

In the Ormond Youth Cup this season, three of the eight sides were combined, and four of the five clubs who stood alone conceded at least one game because they were unable to raise a side. Arguably, it’s better than having no competition at all, but the stats are damning.

But longing for the good old days is futile. The question now, is how do we arrest the slide?

New format needed at senior level

Make it win-lose cricket, shorten the format, start earlier. All are suggestions banded around at will, but if only it were that simple.

There are issues authorities must look at. The term ‘losing draw’ has long rankled with many, myself included. The allocation of points has improved since a proposal passed at last season’s AGM, but still, a format where a side can bat second and dominate - but benefit less than a team who bats first and wins narrowly, is questionable.

Doing away with the teas, stricter guidelines on over rates, stumps pitched at midday – none are flawless, but all are notions that may entice ‘that’ player which every club has. The one reluctant to don the whites if it stops him being in the pub by 7pm.

Problems aplenty for officials

Of course, voicing proposals means little if ideas are not then officially brought to the table at the Pembroke County Cricket Club AGM. And yes, that hint applies to me as much as it does anyone else.

The biggest problem of all however, lies out of the remit of county officials, club committees, or team captains.

Tinker with the game and spice things up all you like. But while you can take the horse to water, you can’t make it drink.

The desire to regularly play team sport in Pembrokeshire is ever dwindling. And cricket, with the duration of matches and required midweek commitments, inevitably gets hit the hardest.

For some, reasons are legitimate. Genuine work or life constraints or a commitment to another activity that cannot be jeopardised. Sport after all, is not life or death. Even if Bill Shankly disagreed.

But for too many, the thought of compromising a 5.15pm football kick off on Sky Sports - or rising from bed after one too many jager bombs in Eddie Rocks, is too much to bear.

And in the lower leagues especially, where clubs are hardly able to penalise absentees, there is little to stop an individual picking and choosing which games fit best with his social calendar.

And finally . . .

I previously mentioned Lyn’s tweet, but perhaps this amusing jibe from the ‘Grade Cricketer’ account sums it up better.

‘Serena Williams almost died giving birth to her daughter and then came back to be runner up at Wimbledon 10 months later, but I didn’t play on the weekend because I didn’t feel like it.’
The comment is obviously made in jest, but the connotations are clear.

I agree we can’t bury heads in the sand. Cricket at all levels is constantly evolving, and Pembrokeshire must follow suit and try to attract youngsters and seniors alike into playing the game.

But speak all you want about coloured kits, music, MC’s, barbeques and the rest of it. Unless the mentality of many towards the local game shifts, attitudes change, and loyalty improves, the situation will only head in one direction.

So, if you’re able to next summer, just get out and play while you have the chance.
And who knows? You might even enjoy it.

The joy of winning as a youngster!

The joy of winning as a youngster!