ON Monday I attended the funeral of Eric Smith, a widely respected local cricket umpire, committee member and administrator who gave a sizeable part of his life to the development of the sport in our part of Lancashire.

The large turnout at the funeral highlighted the high esteem in which Eric was held within the cricket communities of Bolton and the county in general.

A couple of hours later an announcement was made on social media by a cricket club in another league of a transfer to them of a junior player from a club in the Bolton Cricket League.

The announcement came within a few hours of that player having represented The Bolton League in a competition final.

Quite what necessitated the indecent haste with which the public announcement was made remains a mystery, but it certainly stood in stark contrast to the emotions of earlier in the day.

To be absolutely clear, the player himself is as nice a lad as anyone could wish to meet and is basically blameless in all this.

However, the overall impression given is one of a club trying to get one over another club in the county to further their own self-promotion and it needs addressing by those responsible for club and league cricket in Lancashire.

It is not a new phenomenon. On the same day as the aforementioned final, the Lancashire Cricket Board tweeted some statistics which they claimed was proof of a successful history of junior cricket development in Lancashire.

It was based on the fact that since 1982, 24 players who had represented Lancashire under-11s had subsequently gone on to play first-class cricket in the UK.

Put another way, and assuming an average under-11s squad size is 20 players per year, this means that out of 720 players who have represented Lancashire Under-11s since 1982, 696 did NOT go on to play first-class cricket, a staggeringly high proportion of some 97 per cent.

That is hardly a measure of success by any standards.

A similar situation exists at an older age level, around 17 to 19 years, by which time players in the Lancashire age-group set-up are being persuaded by managers and coaches at the county to leave their clubs in areas of Lancashire such as Bolton, Oldham and Rochdale in order to try their hand in the designated ‘Premier Leagues’, playing on drier, more batsman-friendly pitches against players of similar ages and abilities.

Clubs in these leagues tend to pay these players their travelling expenses plus a little more on top. The problem is the conversion rate of these players into first-class cricketers is equally as low as the under-11s example.

In short, the vast majority of players are not being told the truth at an early enough stage, that they will not be good enough to play first-class cricket in the future, and make any meaningful living from the sport, whichever league they choose to play their club cricket in.

The big problem in all this is what happens to the clubs and leagues which have developed these players in the first place.

I am afraid the answer at the moment is they are made to feel as if the standard of their first division cricket is poor (it isn't), the standard of their playing facilities is even worse (in reality, in the main they are acceptable and reliable), and that they are subservient to these more senior leagues accredited by the ECB (they aren't).

In recent days, I have seen much comment on social media about the development of individual players.

Nothing is ever mentioned regarding the development of clubs in all parts of the county and their crucial role in providing future playing personnel for the county club.

Are we expected to believe clubs are going to continue to be willing to invest many thousands of pounds into the development of young cricketers only to see them engineered into a different environment once they reach a certain age and/or level of ability and then receive nothing in return?

I think not.

I sincerely hope a respected figure like Paul Allott, the man recently appointed to the role of director of cricket at Lancashire County Cricket Club, will take this opportunity to carry out a full consultation with all clubs and leagues throughout the county with a view to putting into place a cricket development structure which is fit for purpose, fair to all the contributing parties, and able in the future to boast statistics which are somewhat more praiseworthy than those disclosed last weekend.

John Hutchinson

Bolton Cricket League chairman