Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Fans voting with their feet on inter-pro issue

it was a tweet by Robin Haire, the former North Down and Ireland international, which sent the cricket forums into meltdown on Friday night. "No cricket this Saturday again, not the same on a Sunday."

There was, of course, cricket – just not the action which he and, apparently, most of the other cricket followers in the Northern Cricket Union wanted to see.

It was a closed Saturday for the Ulster Bank Premier League to allow the players and their club supporters to go to The Lawn for the RSA inter-provincial game between the Northern Knights and Leinster Lightning but that is not who they want to watch on cricket's main day of the week.

"Keep it simple guys, keep inter-pros to midweek and odd Sunday and club cricket Saturday and odd Sunday," was Haire's follow-up and, sure enough, it was the usual, familiar faces who turned up to watch the best action of the weekend with barely a club player in sight.

It was Cricket Ireland's wish to have the inter-provincial Cup (50 overs competition) on a Saturday to "raise the profile of the competition".

After all, it is best v best. But at a meeting last winter, attended by two representatives from each of the three major unions, Richard Holdsworth, CI's High Performance director, was told that Saturday should be kept for club cricket and the inter-pro competition should go to Sundays.

The compromise was one Saturday in the season and the players backed their union representatives by staying away. Haire was not surprised.

"Cricket Ireland thinks cricketers are going to support these inter-pros. There's not a hope in hell of that happening.

"If cricketers get a day off on Saturdays they are with their wives or girlfriends, or go away for the weekend. Only the five per cent of cricketers involved in these inter-pros are going to follow it. Nobody goes to them!"

And Haire is speaking a supporter of both sides of the argument.

He was one of the few spectators at Osborne Park last month for the three-day Championship game between the Knights and the North West Warriors and, in his day, captain of both club and province, Ulster Town, as it then was.

"But nothing beats lifting a trophy for your club," he adds, but he still hasn't worked out how to help players identify with the Knights team, even though six of the Premier League clubs were involved in Saturday's match. A possible answer came in tweet agreeing with Haire: "Why watch 1/11th or 2/11ths of your team when you can support 11/11ths

More immediately, Haire is worried about the future of club cricket.

"The more non-club cricket that is played on Saturday is costing clubs money. A home game on a Saturday is totally different on Sunday.

"People can come and watch cricket on a Saturday, have a few drinks, without having to worry about having to go to work next day, but on Sundays they are not going to do that. "

And a look at the attendances at the three Premier League games, put back by 24 hours because of the inter-pro last weekend, only emphasised his point.

The glamour game between Waringstown and North Down at The Lawn attracted one of the lowest attendances in years for that fixture and the crowds at Wallace Park and Shaw's Bridge were also down on what could be expected on a Saturday.

Holdsworth has insisted that the inter-provincial fixture list will be reviewed next year after feedback from the unions, which he has described as "important" but Haire fears Cricket Ireland will continue to dictate matters.

"It seems to me Cricket Ireland are getting close to deciding when we can and can't play our league and cup cricket – a very dangerous scenario.

"As the largest union we should be stating our case to CI in the strongest terms, basically don't mess with our league and cups," he says.

Roger Bell, one of the two NCU representatives at the fixture meeting insists the union is standing up to the governing body.

"We asked for as few Saturdays as possible for interprovincial cricket and insisted that we couldn't close down the whole senior league programme.

"However, we wrote to all the clubs in Sections one, two and three and told them they could rearrange their game on August 10 if they wished. We did not receive one reply!" said Bell.

There is no question that the interprovincial competition, in all three formats, will continue and while the NCU may win the battle over fixture dates it will be up to them to win the war in getting support for the Knights. It is the best team they can put out in their union.