Question of standards as York fly flag for the county

Jack Leaning.
Jack Leaning.
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FOR the vast majority of the past seven seasons, York Cricket Club have had things their own way at the top of the ECB Yorkshire League.

But the times, they are a-changin’.

For aficionados of grassroots cricket in Yorkshire, that is no bad thing. Although definitively saying the Clifton Park outfit’s hegemony will be broken when the league honours are likely to be decided is another thing entirely.

‘Nine-in-a-row’ was the famous mantra for the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers back in the mid-Seventies and late-Nineties to crown their respective dominance of Scottish league football.

In their own sporting sphere, York have sights on their own milestone – a wondrous eighth successive title.

Standing in their way are Yorkshire Academy, five points clear at the top after finishing runners-up last term.

The likes of Barnsley, whose title win in 2006 was the prelude to York’s seven-season unbroken run as champions, are also handily placed along with Doncaster, first winners of the ECB-titled competition in 1999.

It augers well for the vitality of the occasionally maligned league at the top end of the ECB pyramid and even if York are the ones smiling again, they will reflect on being pushed all the way – they host the Academy on August 17.

On the question of the league’s strength, York secretary Nick Kay told The Yorkshire Post: “It goes in cycles. Yes, there are one or two at the bottom who do struggle, but in the past, we have been runaway leaders and clear by 20 to 30 points at this stage.

“This season, there are probably five teams who could win the league on paper and at the top end, it appears to have more strength.”

“It looks like we have our most difficult competitor to date in Yorkshire Academy, who are a very good side. But we have been lucky enough to be fighting for the league title for the last 12 years and in the past seven, we have always managed to get over the line.

“So, from our point of view, it is par for the course and we know what to expect and just hope our experience of big games at the end of the season will get us through.”

While many ECB-designated leaguess are comfortably the strongest and most marquee competitions in numerous English counties, scores of White Rose cricket fans would venture that is not the case in the Broad Acres.

It is the widespread belief of many that the Bradford League is king, with the experiences of York and Yorkshire League legend Duncan Snell following his switch for Clifton Park to Woodlands adding weight to that view.

In 10 golden years at York, Snell smashed records galore in hitting 10,560 runs in league and cup, with his 2013 average being a fine 56.44 when he hit 1,411 runs.

At the halfway point of the Bradford League season, he was well down the half-season averages with 183 runs at 26.14.

But Kay is not a subscriber to that view and believes the Yorkshire League is the Bradford League’s equal and as strong as any rival – Jack Leaning’s form at York seeing him elevated into Yorkshire’s first team.

Kay added: “I would always back up our league and feel it is as good as any league in the county and the top teams would give anyone a run for their money.

“The National Cup (ECB Royal London Cup Championship) is a good indicator of that with us getting out of our section and Doncaster getting to the final, which was further than any of the Bradford or South Yorkshire League sides achieved. It shows there is strength in our league at the top.”

Speaking of national business, York visit Chorley in the quarter-finals of the ECB Royal London Cup tomorrow and, seven days later, go to Bradford League champions Cleckheaton in the last four of the Yorkshire Champion of Champions Trophy.

With surfaces still largely dry, York’s success on three fronts could hinge of the performances of their spin-kings in captain Dan Woods and Tom Pringle, who lines up against former club Cleckheaton. Kay added: “While you can take our 2012 National Cup-winning team as the best we have had, we do feel that this team is pretty close to that.

“Maybe we are slightly short in batting in terms of an outstanding top-six player. But what we have is two of the best spinners in the county in Tom Pringle and Dan Woods, who always seem to get us through.

“Tom is possibly the best leg-spinner in the county, while Dan captains Cheshire as well as us and he broke the league wicket record last year.”