CRAIG NELSON: Bolton Cricket League standard has gone down
9:20am Saturday 7th September 2013 in Sport
AS the Bolton League title race nears its conclusion it is fair to say this has been one of the most entertaining seasons on record.
Little Lever’s unexpected early surge to the top of the table caught regular challengers Greenmount and Farnworth on the hop and the competition has been boosted by successful campaigns at Egerton and Bradshaw.
The introduction of top pro Qaiser Abbas and the undoubted batting talent of Atiq uz-Zaman has also propelled last year’s basement club, Westhoughton, into the top five, on track for a place in next season’s Lancashire Knockout.
And the dogged determination of Farnworth Social Circle means, going into the final three matches of the season, only nine points separate second and seventh.
But despite a much wider spread of teams competing for the top prizes than in recent times, there continues to be growing concern for the future of the league.
While some clubs are thriving, others are struggling for numbers.
Most of the players, captains and officials I have spoken to are agreed the standard of cricket, along with the numbers of local youngster playing the game, has dropped over the past 20 years.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little agreement on where things have gone wrong and what, if anything, can be done to turn it around.
A common complaint is the payment of amateurs at some clubs, which, it is claimed, skews the competition.
One solution put forward is the league should go the whole hog and get rid of the payment of players altogether, including professionals.
An alternative argument is the decision not to have overseas amateurs, taken just under a decade ago, has had a catastrophic impact.
The switch was supposed to give more opportunities to local players, but many think it has only served to reduce standards.
It is argued that, not only are there fewer top players competing in the Bolton League, but the severing of links to clubs in the southern hemisphere has denied local youngsters the chance to improve by playing abroad over the winter.
It is undeniable the draw of international stars like Mark Waugh and Matthew Hayden helped to attract the best local cricketers to the Bolton League, over and above other local competitions.
The most radical solution mooted is to turn the League into a two-tier competition, opening it up to more teams with the inclusion of professionals and overseas amateurs optional for clubs in the lower division. The idea, which is likely to raise eyebrows, would at least allow clubs who wanted to concentrate on promoting from within the chance to compete on a more level playing field.
But whatever the solution, one thing is clear, with other local leagues already taking steps to tackle the problem, standing still is not an option.