1st X1 report 2005 season
‘….England win the ashes…Sefton beat Bootle.’ Not the kind of headlines we’ve been used to for 13 years. In both the league and all cup competitions (about thirty encounters) we finally managed to reverse this increasingly embarrassing statistic. We did it as well with four regular 1st team players away plus Paul Horton on Lancashire duty. We also beat this year’s worthy champions, Northern, away from home after losing the toss (again) and without an overseas professional. I suppose if we’d been offered both these results back in April, after losing our overseas cricketer two weeks before the first game, I’d have gratefully accepted.
Looking back on the season, even with our highest ever premier league points total and a record 8 wins, I can’t help but be slightly disappointed. We were in 3rd place at the half way stage, with several articles in the Post and Echo talking of us as title race dark horses. Then came our nemesis, August; the month to finish all good league campaigns. 27 players played at least one 1st team league match in 2005. We have a recurring August availability problem, as we are a predominately amateur team playing in an increasingly professional league. People need holidays and as we have at least 6 players who are either teachers, married to teachers, or under 18 and go away in the school holidays they are all going to be away in August. If we are going to progress as a team we need to try and address our availability. At Leigh I was very grateful to Adam Norcott for coming in to ‘keep’. 5 potential keepers I could have called upon were all unavailable. Adam though did a great job on the day.
Whilst staying in the premier league is an achievement worth acknowledging, I actually believe it is an under achievement and we as a club need to be more ambitious than the annual ‘will we wont we’ get relegated pre-season pre-occupation. We are a cricket club and need to remember that cricket is why we exist; therefore all our efforts need to be focused on the 1st team finishing as high as possible. A shift of culture needs to happen from within the club.
At times the club’s attitude still reflects the cricketing days of the 80’s when I started playing. Sefton hasn’t really moved on in the way league cricket has. 2.30 starts; about 45 overs a side and all amateur teams finished 15 years ago. We play virtually all day cricket against international cricketers now, a far cry from the game I started playing in the 80’s. ECB pyramid structured cricket is not going away and as a result we need to adapt our attitude as a club. Professionals are a reality and we need to embrace the concept or drift into mid table 1st division mediocrity. If the 1st team doesn’t compete it has consequences that run through all the sides as availability gets even worse so players from the seconds come into the 1st team and therefore 3rd team players go in to the 2nds and all teams struggle. Just look at Worsley this season; relegated to the feeder league less than 5 years after performing as a competitive premier league team. They now face a future of real uncertainty with the very existence of their club in doubt. (…and let’s not even get started on LCC!)
Paul Horton again performed with total commitment for his club scoring a shade under 800 runs in only 16 league innings. In this league that is a tremendous effort, not to mention him snaffling more outfield catches (17) than any other fielder in the premier division. Sadly the rest of our batting again proved too light for the challenge. Two bright notes were the emergence of John Jackson, aged 17 and Matt Phythian 16 - two young players with a fantastic attitude and undoubtedly future main players of the club. Another great plus for the side was the emergence of Bruce ‘the bonus’ Neary. His ‘5 for’ and ‘7 for’ (plus 3 drops!) were great spells not to mention his 50 on batting debut against Wallasey.
Dave Poskitt proved to be the best young English seamer in the league, as predicted by his own team mates. He constantly knocked over the top order batsmen week in week out, and then on several occasions came back to clean up the tail and win games. Not since Ashley Noffke and Chris Whelan have I ever seen an opening bowler perform so clinically. Dave is a great find for our club one of the very best opening bowlers the club has had since I started in the mid 80’s. Rob Houghton took 38 league wickets, and most impressively his dramatic spell of 5-1 against Bootle will live in the memory for many a year. I think the increased competition of three spinners helped Rob focus more and his performances this season reflect this.
The overseas professional situation proved once again a source of frustration. I’m taking this opportunity to explain to a lot of members the inside track on the whole process. It’s probably one of the most talked about and ultimately controversial conversation points in the bar throughout the season.
In the absence of a cricket chairman this season I was left with the responsibility of finding a replacement for Vin Mane after he informed us he had to have an operation in April. Stuart Wade’s help and valuable input was gratefully received as between us in a space of 4 weeks (and without exaggeration) we either made or received about 50 calls/texts or e-mails from India, Pakistan and Australia. We were approached by all comers from Test cricketers, Australia A players and cricketers yet to play a 1st class game, all of which were unknown to us as people or players.
We eventually settled for Ramesh Powar on account of his superb playing record and as he was also endorsed by Vin as decent guy. Our brief flirtation with Zeeshan Pervez Khan from Pakistan was a new dimension for the club - an overseas sub pro/trialist. All will agree he is a very personable guy and put himself about the club. However after the four games Zeesh played we felt that Ramesh’s record was worth a gamble. Also, and crucially, Zeeshan didn’t posses a UK work permit. In light of recent investigations by the inland revenue this was a total non starter. Long term if he could qualify for a permit I wouldn’t have a problem with him being our overseas, that’s if we have one!
On that note my soap box has arrived. As I referred to earlier the club (as an employer) needs to address the way it treats our professionals; English and overseas. We have to realise they didn’t force themselves upon our club, on the contrary we actively sort their employment. We still haven’t accepted their role in the modern club game. If we don’t agree with them fine don’t employ one. The worst thing we can do, which is what we have done for most of the last 9 years is reluctantly employ, then treat as a parasite we would like to remove at any given time (although often an amazing turn around in attitude when they win a game!). My parting advice for what its worth, is to investigate the young Australian route again, as I believe it’s where we are as a club in both financial terms and employer attitude.
Finally as most of you will know by now I have retired as a player, (never say never!) essentially as we are expecting our first baby shortly before the start of next season, but also I have a new job that will involve even more travelling etc and I’m attempting to stop hacking and take golf seriously. This season was very enjoyable and I’m only sorry not to be carrying on as captain as I really started to enjoy the challenge, despite my ranting above! I’ve played senior cricket continuously for 24 years at Sefton and in the 1st team for approx 18 years. My congratulations to Ben Moore and when he takes over I hope he continues to get the total support I had from the team. It was a real pleasure to captain all that played in 2005, not a problem or back bite all season!
On a more serious note we desperately need a cricket chair as in this new modern game the 1st team captain has more than enough to do. Attending board meetings, in my opinion, is not the responsibility of the 1st team captain, the cricket chair should attend and act as a conduit for all the captains regarding cricket issues. Again our structure is antiquated at times. 1st team league cricket now is a very different pastime to what it was even 15 years ago. If we want to encourage people to commit to captaining the 1st team then it has to be realised that in this age of pros, all day cricket, relegation etc that people’s time is stretched as it is. Shared responsibility is needed with more people taking the burden. As an example this year I had a mobile bill of £185 in April mainly to India, drove to every away game, picked the pro up from the airport, helped him and his wife move house twice in one day (!), collected him every Saturday, paid off 2 bar tabs and attended every selection meeting when I was in Liverpool. So a gentle nudge in the direction of the safety zone that is the members bar on a midweek evening, off the pitch there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye!
Sincere thanks to all that I’ve played with over the years, with special mention to the two Stuarts, SW as an inspirational captain that changed the way we competed as a team in the 90’s and also SMC – let’s get behind him as he’s doing more than most of the whole membership put together.
1st XI Captain