3rd January 2014
As a new cricketing year dawns, it is perhaps interesting to have a look back and see how much, or indeed how little has changed in the Hampshire Cricket League overs the last few decades.
To do this a "snapshot" season of 1991 has been chosen - some 23 years ago. Lots has changed - but lots has not. Clubs have come and gone as have players but there are many familiar Clubs, players and officials still going strong.
Lets start by looking a the structure of the league as a whole......
The 1991 HCL season featured 180 clubs spread across 11 divisions. The county division structure from CD1 to CD4 is very similar to how it is today. The lower divisions however we simply split into West and East rather than the 4-way split that currently features. For 2014 the HCL will feature 342 teams - an increase of 74% over the period. Assuming, that to run a league team a club needs a squad of at least 16 players, then the number of people playing league cricket on a regular basis has risen from circa 3,150 in 1992 to 5,470 today!
For interest, the league format in 1992 was a follows:
Of course there will be many unfamiliar Clubs listed above, and likewise there are many clubs notable for their absence. In 1991the New Forest cricket league had yet to be absorbed into the HCL structure so many clubs locally familiar to Sway were not in the HCL - Hordle, Pylewell, Christchurch, Beaulieu etc. In fact is was not until 2001 that the Hampshire Combination Cricket League and the New Forest Cricket League were absorbed into the HCL. This is only part of the story however behind the expansion of the HCL. Local geography as well as Club ambitions have drawn teams into the HCL from surrounding counties:
Back in 1992, there were 17 "foreign" teams in the HCL. Of these 7 were from Wiltshire, 4 from Berkshire, 3 from Dorset and 3 from Surrey.
Today there are now no less than 50 teams playing in the Hampshire Cricket League that are based outside of the County. The extra-county teams in 2014 are split as follows:
Unlike the Dorset Cricket League, the HCL is able to offer ambitious clubs the prospect of promotion into the the Southern League so it could be speculated that this is a motivation behind some ambitious Dorset-based teams entering sides into the HCL. This can only be part of the reason however as 14 more teams have joined from Wiltshire, despite this county offering potential promotion to the West of England Premier League. Perhaps local geography and the HCL's reputation as being a very well run and competitive league has drawn in sides in the border zones.
Another trend that is very noticeable is the decline in "1 team" clubs and a corresponding rise in clubs with multiple teams. Whilst there are of course exceptions, it is much the case these days that success is built on a Club's colts sections - and as a result Clubs need and want multiple teams to be able to offer progression to youngsters. Of course the advent of Clubmark, and Focus Clubs has also had the effect of channelling resources into clubs with colts sections. Back in 1991, 82 of the teams (45%) in the HCL were one-club teams and there were only three clubs with three teams and one with a fourth eleven. In 2014, despite there being 74% more teams, the number of "1-club" teams had fallen to 65 (19%). Next season there will be 44 clubs with two teams, 37 with 3 teams, 15 clubs with 4 teams, 6 clubs with 5 teams and two clubs with a whopping 6 league teams in the HCL.
The list of clubs playing in 1991 contains many names that are no longer with us - either folded, changed names, merged or gone to play in other leagues. Information on some is patch at best so any corrections or updates much appreciated.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 2017 - thanks to Simon Jones
A perusal of the averages for 1991 provides a few familiar local names.
Colin James of Paultons featured in the CD1 batting averages in 1991 and was still playing Southern League cricket 19 years later in 2013.
Charlie Forward of OT & Romsey [who the author once caught with a diving catch on the boundary in an inter-house school game circa 1984 causing admonishment from the great man for "over-celebrating"] is well known for his amazing achievement of having scored a 100 league centuries, most of which were in the Southern League and is the second highest run scorer of all time is the SEPL.
Rosebowl coach Chris Wheeler popped up in the CD2 batting averages with ageless run-merchant Mike Shutler of Hyde well placed in the CD3A batting averages and still had the energy to plunder 33 against Sway II in 2013 before being caught by Luke Lewis - who was born 8 years after the 1991 season!
The star bowler in CD3 was Fawley legend Lawrence Read who plundered an astonishing 42 wickets at an average of 8.14. Such was the achievement, Read earnt a write up where it was speculated that he might "retire at the top"...yet 21 years later he is still playing, helping Fawley's youngsters in the Tony Woodhouse Cup and occupying his trademark number 11 position.
In a remarkable feat of longevity Alan Hayward of Hyde has opened the batting since the Club's formation in 1975. In the 1991 season he racked up 741 runs at 67.36 in CD3. In 2013 he still made the RD1 batting averages with a still very average of 40.11 - despite falling for just 8 to Sam Nailor in the Sway clash.
Another remarkable survivor is Hambledon's classy veteran Ian Turner. One of the few players in the league with first class experience (14 1st class appearances for Hampshire) he ran amok in 1991 taking 25 wickets at just 5.6 in CD1. 22 years later he made 6 appearances as a batsman for Hambledon in Div 1 of the SEPL - proof if any needed that form is fleeting, but class permanent.
Mark Emm made both the batting & bowling averages in East Div 1 for Hamble whist down in West 2 and is still bowling in the CD divisions. Dave Naish was racking up the runs for Woodgreen and was still playing for then in CD4 against Sway 1st XI in 2012.
In West 3, Braemore veteran Steve Marlow made the batting averages and 21 years later was still opening the batting with his brother Shaun against Sway II.
In 1991 a youthful looking Paul Kemp, skipper of Bashley II collected the CD4 trophy and two decades later he is still out there, currently for their 4th XI.
Also at Bashley, Don Read, father of young quickie Sean was well up in the CD4 bowling averages with an average of a wicket every 11 runs. Don still turns out on occasions and does umpiring duties.
With the ball, irritatingly accurate Lymington veteran Chris Noble took 17 wickets at 13.47 for their second eleven and must surely have taken hundreds of league wickets now.
Without doubt one of the primary reasons for the continued success of the HCL is the continuity and experience on its management board and committees. By 1991 Colin Savage had already been the League's chairman since its formation in 1973 and is still a Life President in 2014 as well as being secretary of the Hampshire Cricket Board. With 40 years of service to local cricket someone really should nominate Colin for an MBE! Steward Frazier is another long standing committee member - having fixture secretary since 1983 - some 30 years of crunching the numbers, dates etc.
Like football, part of the enduring appear of cricket is that the rules have remained fundamentally the same. The HCL is no different and follows the MCC Laws of Cricket. There have been however tweaks in the rules governing the HCL's competitions and the most well known is a reduction in the number of overs allowed per bowler. Back in 1991, bowlers could bowl 12 overs meaning that a skipper need only deploy 4 bowlers, with one only bowling 6 overs. The current 10 over limit means of course that at least 5 bowlers.
There has also been a tweak to the points scoring system - in 1991 there was a basic 10 points available for a win compared with 12 today. Hence the maximum score was 22 against 24 today. Presumably this change marginally increases the incentive for skippers to try and win a game. Back in 1991 there was only one ball being used for all games - so in the 45 over Championship Division games the ball may have been in quite a state after 90 overs where of course today there is a new ball for each innings.
Reflecting the huge increase in clubs with multiple teams, it is now permitted for clubs to have 2 teams in the same division - something which was not allowed in 1991 - no doubt leading to frustration with promotions being denied.
The biggest area of change relates to issues designed to keep players, especially colts safe. Back in 1991 there were no restrictions on the number of overs bowled by youngsters or indeed the minimum age of players. These days there are comprehensive rules to protect youngsters and in the case of young fast bowlers to protect them from the lower back bones issues that were not well understood until recently. There have also been clarification on the bowling of short and full balls removing these potential grey areas from being umpire's call - increasing protection and reducing the potential for arguments.
Given it's current strength is is hard to see anything other than a bright future for the HCL. There are leagues in the UK that are struggling and some have floated ideas such as moving to a 20/20 format but generally speaking most clubs are likely to continue to be happy with the current 45/42 over format. Any longer would cause player availability issues is the morning and the evenings of course brings light issues - hence the current format is the longest game of "proper" cricket you can realistically get in an afternoon.
Crystal ball gazing, what might change of the coming decades...... Well although there remain beacons of excellence, it is likely that the decline of friendly cricket will sadly continue. This could open up the possibility of some forms of additional Sunday or Midweek competition - despite declines the Dorset Cricket League still has 35 teams playing in its Sunday league and this may appeal to some players who for example cannot play on Saturdays due to work or other commitments - but still want competitive cricket.
The trend away from cricket in schools is also likely to continue with clubs become the primary cricket source of action for youngsters. As such, those clubs that are able to offer excellent colts set ups and coaching will continue to attract lots of youngsters providing a long term source of players for their adult teams. Correspondingly, small one-team clubs or those with no colts setups are likely to find the going tougher in terms of player recruitment and suffer a relative decline within the league structure.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that a solution be found to issues surrounding the Dorset Cricket League - and that such a solution might involve ultimately a merger with the HCL. Due to the lack of a promotion to the SEPL the Dorset League needs to try and meet the needs of its more ambitious and larger clubs such as Parley and the haemorrhaging of teams to the HCL could be stopped if via merger a SEPL promotion place became available either directly or via a play-off. There are of course many reasons why this may not happen!
In the short term, let's all wish for a dry, warm and cricketful 2014!