February 2018 - Wiltshire Youth Cricket League

Growing up playing cricket, wanting to play cricket, and wanting to play more cricket, is entirely dependent on your ability to play against another team. School cricket in the UK, and certainly local authority schools in Wiltshire, rarely provides that opportunity to shine. 

Young players are hungry - they want to test themselves against others, they want to realise those dreams of playing for England, they look forward to impressing mates with the boundary they crashed through the covers yesterday. Therefore it falls to the local club to provide this craving. 

Moreover, they are reliant on a league in order to play matches. To travel to new grounds, the excitement, the nerves, the sizing up of the other team in the warm up, the toss, the unveiling of the batting order, that first ball, the feel of the bat in the hands, a sparkling catch, the jubilation of team-mates, that undeniably euphoric feeling of winning. Playing cricket in a team, in a league, with your mates, is a great experience for a young person. It's growing up, it's learning about life, it’s learning to win, and lose, it's meeting new people, it’s providing lasting memories.

Yet the people who organise those leagues, who provide us with the structure to compete, remain anonymous and generally unknown. That's a real shame.

This edition of ClubLife focuses on the Wiltshire Youth Cricket League (WYCL), and specifically the winners of the Wiltshire Cricket Leagues & Boards OSCA for 2017, Chris Sykes and Paul Rowson, chairman and administrator respectively of the league.

Their involvement in the league began 17 years ago while their sons were involved in junior cricket at Chippenham CC. At that point in time just 6 clubs were involved in league cricket, playing a handful of games at Under 11, Under 13 and Under 15 level in the North Wiltshire area. By 2004 that league had grown to 12 clubs, 30 teams and 135 scheduled games. Next year there will be 28 clubs, 88 teams, participating across 13 divisions in the under 11, under 13 and under 15 age groups and nearly 400 scheduled matches. In addition to that, at the under 9 level there are 24 planned kwik cricket festivals - invariably with at least 6 teams playing in each event. 

That's a serious amount of cricket. It's a serious number of opportunities. It's the potential making of a love of cricket.

ClubLife puts it to Sykes and Rowson that they should be considered unsung heroes in the work that they do to facilitate all this cricket but they’re not having any of it, and confess to being slightly embarrassed to be seen in that light. Simply put, they are just happy to have been able to provide the volume and quality of cricket that the league enables. Indeed, they prefer to turn the spotlight back onto parents, coaches and managers of local clubs as the real heroes of junior cricket.

However, they happily acknowledge some of the highlights of the last two decades; for example watching the likes of Tom Alsop, James Vince, Liam Dawson and Craig Miles grow up playing WYCL cricket and moving on to much bigger things in their careers. Yet they get as much satisfaction from seeing individuals scoring their first hundred or taking  a ‘five for’ for the first time, and outstanding performances from non-county players who wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to play in longer format matches in their own age group.

They are cricket lovers through and through, and the opportunity to give something back, watching the league evolve with new teams, new formats and embracing initiatives from the ECB are part and parcel of the pleasure they get from being involved. The annual League presentation evenings regularly generate over 200 participants and, whilst it may be a cliché, seeing the pleasure of young players collecting awards and being recognised for success, is genuine, and helps sustain their involvement.

Yet they never set out with the intention of creating the league we see today. The initial focus was purely about providing some form of structured league cricket to give boys and girls the opportunity to play competitive cricket. Over the years the league has evolved with input from clubs, Wiltshire Cricket themselves and the direction of junior cricket coming nationally from the ECB. In this way the league has changed e.g. reducing length of longer format matches; introducing T20 divisions, regional divisions, and under 11 Pairs; simplifying points scoring; relaxing rearrangement rules in the spirit of ‘Get the Game On’. In 2018 the league is going to embrace some of the proposed ECB pilot formats within the under 9 festivals.   

If there is something that they haven’t cracked it’s getting all scorecards on to play-cricket. This would make end of season statistics and performance awards much easier to generate. However the current league website is such an easy to use platform that it’s difficult to encourage all clubs to load all scorecards onto play-cricket, and with volunteer time at a premium this is added value rather than necessity. There is always something to improve on when you care about the game.

Of course if there is a negative slant on their involvement it is the lack of visible future alternatives coming forward to take over the reins.

And such is the dilemma facing any volunteers in sport – doing a good job for a long time can make it harder for the next person to see themselves as a viable replacement. But of course, succession is required at some point and whoever picks up the WYCL will take on a rewarding, carefully planned and developed infrastructure that has stood the test of time and provided a huge amount of pleasure to many hundreds of junior players, parents and coaches.

Cricket needs volunteers as much as the next sport. Every sport needs volunteers like Chris Sykes and Paul Rowson.