No easy answer but earlier start times could help cricket matches

Andrew White believes earlier starts for games could help resolve the problems caused by late finishing times for games of cricket
Andrew White believes earlier starts for games could help resolve the problems caused by late finishing times for games of cricket

Since time began, mankind has constantly sought answers. With each successive generation knowledge has increased, new technology has brought more answers, but even more questions.

Scientific advances allowed us to eradicate many diseases and illnesses which in the past were incurable, but still our thirst for answers continues unabated. However there is one question out there which we will never have an answer for.

This is a question posed week in, week out, more often than not by the same people, some who should know better. It is a simple question and I have no doubt that most of you have either asked it, or been asked it: “What time will the game be finished at?”

I have seen otherwise intelligent men turn to quivering wrecks when asked the question, as they try to explain why there is no answer.

The finishing time of a cricket match depends on so many variables which other sports do not have to contend with. If 10 football matches kick off at 3pm, barring a disaster all will be finished by 5pm.

If 10 cricket matches start at 1pm perhaps some will finish at 4pm and some will still be going on at 9pm in near darkness, a window of perhaps five hours, so it makes planning well nigh impossible.

So what are the variables? The quality of the players in each team, the length of the bowlers’ run-ups, how many times is the sightscreen moved, etc. the list is endless.

Of course the great imponderable is the weather. So many things are outside our control, but one thing we have complete control over is the starting time.

Again this has been brought into play and the focus of much debate on social media. Now I admit that with Newsletter cricket correspondent Alistair Bushe I have played my part in this.

Dozens of tweets have gone through my timeline on the subject since last Saturday morning, so what are the points for and against?

On Saturday we had an Inter-pro match staring at 10.45am, NCU Challenge Cup games starting at noon and Premier League matches starting at 1pm, so no consistency.

Admittedly “the poll” was far from scientific but those who chose to voice an opinion mainly came down in favour of earlier start times, some going as far as to suggest that games start at 11am every week. Contributions came from administrators, umpires, players and spectators.

So before we lambast the NCU, the rules state that the latest start time is 1pm: nothing to stop clubs being proactive and arranging earlier start times as pointed out by Derriaghy’s Andrew Kenny. Interesting Strabane’s Mark Gillespie countered that by stating it probably did not happen as guys were set in their ways.

Naturally the schools debate surfaced, with most indicating that it was an irrelevance or that there was no commitment to clubs and school cricket should be during the week. A point I took up with Andrew White, one of Ireland’s most capped players, Northern Knights captain and teacher at Grosvenor Grammar School, to share his personal opinions.

“Speaking as a neutral, I would prefer earlier starts: however clubs need the schools and vice versa. Do not underestimate the importance of school cricket, with the notable exception of Adam Dennison, most young players coming through, come via the school system.

“Players such as Gary Wilson, Paul Stirling and I came through that system. Our schools cup games are played during the week, but a high number of games do not take place on the allocated date.

“There are a number of reasons for this, such as exam commitments, Duke of Edinburgh awards etc. At Grosvenor, whilst the coaching by Kyle McCallan and me never stops, it is limited in the summer term; most of it is done before Easter.

“We allowed Alistair Shields the freedom to play for North Down instead of Grosvenor and currently Andrew Forbes, who plays for Instonians, is being released by Belfast Royal Academy to play.

“I believe this is the right thing to do, providing the player has a pivotal role in the club team. If we are looking these young guys to come through to the Northern Knights or international teams we need them to be honing and fine tuning their skills against the best in the NCU.

“There are many difficulties facing school cricket; we have a number of clubs that we feed into, CSN, North Down, Instonians, CIYMS and Cregagh, but are we and other schools getting as many into the clubs as we should and what are the clubs doing in return to attract pupils?

“A guy turns up on a Saturday morning doesn’t get a bat, doesn’t get a bowl, so where is the enjoyment and why repeat it in the afternoon? For me all Saturday school cricket matches are friendlies, so with the exception of the 1st XI, perhaps it should be more about participation than winning.

“Also I have had to cancel an Under 15 game because seven players were still involved with football, so I don’t have any easy answers. However if no schoolboys are involved clubs should begin utilising the rule on earlier start times, but remember school cricket must be cared for as it is the lifeblood of our game. Mind you it doesn’t help the masters in charge who also want to play club cricket!”

I told you at the outset, it is an impossible question to answer, is it even the right question? The future of the game lies in the hands of those who govern it, clubs and schools need to find a compromise that works for the benefit of all.