Gavin Carr certainly had his work cut out in his first year as chairman of the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League after the coronavirus pandemic affected the season. CHRIS TRAVERS speaks to the NSSCL leader to discuss the challenges he faced last summer, his hopes for the new campaign and the current state of the league and the game across the area…
YOUR FIRST SEASON AS NSSCL CHAIRMAN DIDN’T PAN OUT AS YOU WOULD HAVE PROBABLY ENVISAGED?
I would say that is a bit of an understatement, but as recent history has shown, we as a committee have had to deal with other unexpected challenges, and I think we have dealt with what has faced us in the best way we possibly could.
I don’t think any of us envisaged the Covid situation would evolve to the pandemic status it has, and certainly no-one would have predicted the impact it has had on our lives.
We have all had to make personal sacrifices over the last 12 months, which have affected families in so many different ways, and the welfare and safety of individuals was always going to be at the forefront of our decisions.
I am no different than everyone involved in the game, in that I welcome the day when we can return to a usual close season of planning in the hope that we can return to normality for the 2022 season.
That said, I have taken on the role of chairman from Brian Lawton, who laid some great foundations for the new team to build upon.
We have restructured some of the committees and encouraged engagement with club, giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions in the correct manner through the right channels.
It has obviously been difficult for committees to meet in the traditional way, but both myself and our new league manager, Alan McGarry have worked together in forming a League Cricket Committee which has worked exceptionally well.
HOW TESTING WAS IT FOR YOU PERSONALLY?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at times it has been challenging and demanding, it has.
However, like many others involved in the game, cricket is in my blood and I have the support of a wonderful family and a great set of friends.
I think as player and chairman of my own club, I do try and keep my ear close to the ground.
It was always going to be important to have a good team around me, involving people who come to meetings and make decisions for the benefit of the game and League and be prepared to take their club hats off.
Besides my family, I am fortunate that we have some very good people at my own club, Checkley, who are also committed to the development of our club, which allows me to hold the position in the League too.
BUT AT LEAST THE NSSCL MANAGED TO SALVAGE SOME CRICKET FROM THE SEASON?
Absolutely and that was fantastic. The ECB must be praised for the work they did at a time when the grassroots game need them most.
The fact that their team liaised with the relevant Government departments to ensure cricket was able to return in such difficult times was outstanding.
This was backed up by the considerable work of our local County Boards, in particular Jason Britton and his team at Staffordshire Cricket Board, with whom we have a very good working relationship.
From a League perspective, I am exceptionally proud of the way our Cricket Committee responded so quickly to propose the suggestion of a format of cricket for the League Executive Committee to approve in such a short space of time.
I would also like to thank our admin officials who reacted swiftly to produce, upload and circulate fixtures and the required administration, which often gets overlooked, but hopefully clubs were extremely thankful to these group of League officials and committees.
Likewise Clubs should also be proud of what they achieved in a short timeframe, to get their facilities operational for safe cricket, when the majority of people are volunteers was testament to how strong the roots of cricket are in our area.
HOPEFULLY WE WILL SEE A FULL SEASON. AFTER THE NUMEROUS LOCKDOWNS AND RESTRICTIONS, THE NSSCL AND LOCAL CRICKET IN GENERAL MUST HAVE A HUGE ROLE TO PLAY IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY NOW MORE THAN EVER?
The climate for an unbroken season of cricket is certainly looking and feeling more positive, so let’s hope it remains that way. This does come with a huge element of responsibility on clubs to ensure that they conduct their club operations in a way that continues to be safe for all those that visit their grounds.
The priority must be that of the game and the continued safety and welfare of our participants and guests. That said, now is a perfect time for clubs to showcase themselves.
As we start to move away from Lockdown restrictions, children will be wanting to find something to do and what better way than to get them involved in an outdoor sport, that gives them an opportunity to be part of a team, learning new skills, in a safe, family friendly environment.
There is also the opportunity for people to return to the game, either as a player, umpire or scorer or indeed for anyone that fancies giving a bit of their time back to their local community, cricket clubs are a great way of doing that.
THIS SUMMER A NEW FORMAT IS BEING INTRODUCED WITH HALF OF THE GAMES BEING PLAYED AS WIN/LOSE AND THE REST HAVING A DRAW INVOLVED. WHY THE CHANGE?
For a few years now we have been willing to consider different formats but there was some reluctance from some traditionalists within clubs, which I understand.
However, we took the view that if our game is to continue to thrive, the views of the players is important.
We carried out a survey at the end of the 2019 season and it was apparent from the feedback received that players wanted to see a change. The option of a split season where half of the games would be straight win/lose was definitely favoured.
The advantage that Covid restrictions gave us in 2020 was that we could trial a format of league cricket based on a win/lose format, and the feedback was resoundingly in support of making this change for 2021.
Therefore, this season the first four divisions will play 11 games at win/lose and 11 games at win/lose/draw. The remaining six divisions will play in their preferred choice of the win/lose format for the entire season.
The split season gives a greater opportunity for more players to actually be involved in the game, it makes for more exciting cricket and still retains an element for the traditionalists.
Hopefully, it will be viewed that we have listened to the players and created a format of cricket that the majority of them want to play and enjoy.
WITH HALF OF THE GAMES BEING WIN/LOSE, IS THERE ANY NEED FOR SUNDAY CUP GAMES WHICH ADOPT THE SAME PRINCIPLE?
We think so. Cup competitions are one-off games, and can create the intensity of a David v Goliath match.
These cup games are still very much part of our plans moving forward.
It’s an opportunity for an underdog to flourish and the League winners are often not always the cup winners.
DO YOU EXPECT THE NEW FORMAT TO MAKE THE LEAGUE MORE COMPETITIVE?
Yes. This is something again that we noticed in our shortened season of 2020. The points have been adjusted to make the competition tighter over a complete season.
I think we may see club selecting different sides for the different types of format, which will undoubtedly see greater competition between clubs but will probably lead to more competitiveness for places at club level, which is good as it can provide opportunity for players that they may not otherwise get, especially as more bowlers will need to be used under the new rules.
IT MUST BE PLEASING TO SEE THE LIKES OF ASHCOMBE PARK AND OAKAMOOR ADD NEW TEAMS TO THE NSSCL. IS THIS AN INDICATOR OF THE HEALTH OF LOCAL CRICKET?
Yes it is wonderful to see new teams being entered and this through the hard work the likes of Ashcombe Park and Oakamoor put in to operating their junior sections, and it is good to see this progression.
Last year the League had over 130 new player registrations, which is extremely positive for the game.
We recognise some of these could be Dad’s helping out, but we also know these numbers involved juniors progressing into the senior game, players returning to cricket and very pleasingly there was increase in the number of female players registering.
That said, we must be mindful that some clubs have reduced their number of teams and in the last couple of years, we have lost a club’s existence, which is something we need to try and address. Retention of clubs is important, we don’t want to see big clubs getting bigger and smaller clubs disappearing.
IT HAS BEEN A FEW YEARS NOW SINCE THE ‘LADDER SYSTEM’ WAS INTRODUCED TO THE LEAGUE. HAS IT WORKED WELL IN YOUR VIEW?
There will always be people who think the system is right and those who think that it’s wrong, I would ask what is the alternative solution?
Is mirroring where the 1st XI plays for the 2nd XI? Does this dilute or distort the level of competition in the 2nd XI competition?
What do we do to accommodate clubs 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th XI’s? Currently we have 10 2nd XI’s playing in Divisions 2 and 3, only one of which is in Division 2, whereas we only have three 1st XIs playing in Divisions 4 and 5.
At the moment we have 10 divisions to accommodate 45 clubs and 109 teams and I don’t think we’d want to change the current system to appease the few that don’t agree with the ladder system. Notwithstanding that, I am always willing to listen to sensible alternatives.
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT SEVERAL CLUBS HAVE OPTED TO ENGAGE OVERSEAS PLAYERS, DESPITE THE CURRENT COVID RESTRICTIONS?
We have consistently advised clubs to carefully consider the engagement of overseas players in the current climate. However, providing they carry out the correct procedures and follow the Government Covid rules, the decision rests with the club.
NO OVERSEAS PLAYERS WERE ALLOWED TO PLAY IN THE LEAGUE LAST SUMMER WHICH GAVE MORE CHANCES TO ‘HOMEGROWN’ PLAYERS. WAS THOUGHT GIVEN TO NOT HAVING OVERSEAS PLAYERS THIS SEASON?
Yes, but the decision was taken last year because of the speed of which Covid restrictions were imposed and that we were faced with playing a considerably shortened season without promotion and relegation being in place.
This is something we did discuss and shall continue to discuss but I don’t necessarily think by not allowing overseas players improves the chances of ‘homegrown’ players.
It depends on what you class as ‘homegrown’ players.
I think the overriding concern is payment of players. There is no point in restricting the use of overseas players if clubs are going to use to their same budgets to recruit several players from around England and Wales rather than engaging the services of one overseas player, the paying of numerous players can also hamper the chances of ‘homegrown’ players.
It will be interesting to see what happens when we resume normality and the possibility of travel restrictions is less prominent in people’s minds.
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT MONEY CONTINUES TO BE SPENT ON PLAYERS RATHER THAN IMPROVING FACILITIES OR TRAINING COACHES?
Absolutely, but I was pleased to see at our recent virtual Chairmen’s’ meetings, that Club Chairs share the same concerns.
This is something we very much intend to keep on the table and at some stage before the end of the season, we intend to hold meetings with the Chairs of Clubs from each division to ignite discussions and hopefully move towards a common agreed way in which these concerns can be addressed.
The sustainability of clubs is paramount. There are many areas clubs can spend money on instead, you have mentioned just two, but we have to give consideration as to where the next group of volunteers is coming from.
Paid players come and go, but the list of jobs carried out by clubs volunteers never disappear. I’m not advocating that good players shouldn’t receive some remuneration for playing the game, after all at the top end we are playing a very competitive standard, a standard we need to retain, but at what expense?
RECENTLY, THE LIKES OF BETLEY AND KIDSGROVE HAVE DROPPED ONE OF THEIR COMPETING SIDES IN THE LEAGUE. IS THIS A WORRY?
Of course, and we would like to see these clubs rebuild as well as trying to prevent further club casualties.
I have family history with Betley, my great uncle lived in the village and was secretary at one time.
I am pleased their Chairman Philip Hesketh, who sits on the League Executive is working hard to rejuvenate the Club. Hopefully Kidsgrove can start to rebuild too, they have some good cricket people there.
DO YOU AND OTHER NSSCL OFFICIALS HAVE ANY OTHER CHANGES PLANNED FOR THE LEAGUE MOVING FORWARD?
It would be nice to return to a normal season and winter of planning.
We hope that players and clubs will engage with us when we request their feedback via our surveys, as this will help shape our decisions moving forward. One of the most important areas is for us to keep the discussion of payment of players live and move to towards an accepted agreement on this with clubs.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS FOR THE SEASON?
I hope we are able to enjoy an unbroken season of cricket, where everyone is able to stay safe and well. I hope players and spectators embrace the new formats.
Clubs and players carry the expectation to remain respectful of each other and all those that help in the officiating of games and administering the League.
If we are successful in collectively achieving this, I see no reason why we can’t have a very enjoyable season.