The Pennine League A Whole New Ball Game
Wednesday 18th November 2015 @ 11:00 by Mark Phillip
Comment Sports

The post-war halcyon days of league cricket, involving big name professionals and sizeable crowds may have long gone, but league cricket still has a vital role to play.

Reporter Sport recently caught up with Geoff Miller, a National Selector when the Ashes were regained in 2005, and prior to that with experience of 35 Test Matches and over 20 ODI’s.

He told us that “League cricket is a breeding ground for test cricketers, giving youngsters the opportunities to develop” and added “It was a vital part of my learning process, providing a basis for what I achieved”.

Given these views, from somebody who has reached the highest level, the importance of competitions such as the Lancashire County League; the Saddleworth and District Cricket League and the Central Lancashire League would appear to be crucial.

But each of these famous three names will be no more come next April.

Debate over the last 12 months, and indeed prior to that, has centred around the need to move forward and deliver a structure which provides the breeding ground which Miller talks about, whilst also recognising the changing social environment.

Paul Adshead, Vice Chair at Ashton CC, is in no doubt of the need for change. He told us “I’ve played in the CLL for 40 years.

“When I started it was a thriving league with great names, but times have changed and we must move on. After all we know what happened to the dinosaur”.

The need for change isn’t something peculiar to the Reporter and Chronicle circulation area.

Earlier in 2015, the formation of the Greater Manchester Cricket League was announced, and 8 of our local Clubs have opted to be a part of the GMCL from 2016.

So, Glossop, the 3 Denton clubs, (St Lawrence; West and Denton itself), Dukinfield, Flowery Field, Droylsden and Ashton Ladysmith will be in the same league next year, albeit spread throughout the 4 division format, and will be pitting their wits against Clubs from all over the GM area.

It’s fair to say that when the GMCL proposals came out, they didn’t meet with the wholehearted support of the majority of CLL members and a significant number from the Saddleworth League. Jon Henderson, a player for 26 years, mainly at Rochdale, explains. “The CLL and SDCL both have fantastic traditions. Competitive league cricket has been a strong feature on the eastern side of the Greater Manchester area, around Tameside; Oldham and Rochdale, and there’s a lot of experience we didn’t want to lose”.

All of which has led to the formation of the Pennine League, and amalgamation of the Central Lancashire and Saddleworth set ups.

It was formally launched last week, and Reporter Sport went along to find out what exactly was being proposed. Jon told us “What we’ve come up with is something that works and strengthens cricket in this area.

“It works because it has been put together by experienced cricketers and administrators”.

It took nearly 2 hours for all the details to emerge, and it was quite obvious that a huge amount of work has been done over the course of the summer.

Outlining the format of the competition were Ryan Barnes, from Heyside, and Peter Gill, recently retired after a long career in both leagues and also as a county player at Leicestershire.

What they presented promises to be an interesting format at senior level, and builds on the strengths of the two leagues, but what caught the eye was the proposal for junior cricket.

It provides for a competitive format, providing just the experience which Geoff Miller stressed was vital.

A sponsor is already in place, with brewers, JW Lees, building on the support given over many year to the CLL.

Interestingly, a significant element of the 4 year deal, which is worth £100k, is the cash which will be directed to cricket development, rather than being targeted at prize money.

This was welcome news to the audience and a representative from JW Lees commented “We like to sponsor local sport and communities and are more than happy to support the new Pennine League”.

Glenn Kershaw has played a leading role in pulling the proposal together, describing it as an “interesting experience”.

Whilst downplaying the title “The Architect of the Pennine League”, he has obviously played a huge part, but is at pains to stress that the new League is about the Clubs and not individuals.

He said “The whole process has been about the Clubs.

“They are the League. Individuals from a range of Clubs have driven the idea forward”.

He recognised that there is still a huge amount of work to be done before the first ball is bowled next April, but that the framework is in place which will ensure that it happens.

Paul Adshead was an interested observer at the launch meeting. He gave his immediate reaction to Reporter Sport saying, “What I particularly like is the way the proposals give real encouragement to juniors, and equally give Clubs the incentive to keep the product of their junior sections”.

He was referring there to the difficulties experienced by some Clubs who see the time they have invested in developing promising youngsters come to nothing as they move to other Clubs. He added “What we have heard about is a format which can only encourage junior cricketers”.

There was unanimous support for the new venture, which will see our local clubs Stayley, Micklehurst and Ashton becoming founder members.

Described as “A whole new ball game” this is certainly the case. The CLL and SDCL both have more than a hundred years behind them.

With the end of the 2015 season hey may be no more, but the “Pennine Way” looks like it will be an excellent path to tread.