Improved Yorkshire pyramid on the cards as ECB plan for future

Sheffield Collegiate players celebrate taking another early wicket in the game against Yorkshire Academy.
Sheffield Collegiate players celebrate taking another early wicket in the game against Yorkshire Academy.
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TO say that plotting a course for a successful cricketing pyramid structure across Yorkshire – with a Premier League at its apex – is a difficult exercise is putting it mildly.

It remains the thorniest of issues given the strength and considerable history of league cricket in the biggest county in England.

But according to one leading league official, it represents a necessary step to pull Yorkshire into line with the present system across the vast majority of counties around the country – and ensuring the lasting strength of White Rose cricket for years to come.

Feeder leagues providing teams for one Premier competition accredited to the ECB are serving many areas across England well.

A number of ECB divisions are considered among the very best in the land, most notably the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League – with leagues covering teams in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire feeding into it.

But in Yorkshire, particularly in the heartland of cricket in the in the west of the county, league cricket rules.

The ECB Yorkshire League, despite containing 13 members from across the Broad Acres from Sheffield United and Collegiate in the south to Scarborough in the north, remain acutely aware of the need to breathe new life into their competition to make it more intense.

Their ultimate ideal is a radical restructure which could pave the way for a new pyramid league system across the whole county, with an ECB-recognised league at the very top.

Proposals to divide the current Yorkshire League into a northern and southern conference, with a geographical split something some of their league’s northern clientele are known to prefer, have been discussed by league officials.

But no final decisions have been taken and while the drive of many is there to create a pyramid system, finding a pathway and getting many in league cricket on board represents the hard bit, with the status quo intact.

Yorkshire ECB League chairman Steve Ward insists that change is the only way to ensure that the overall quality of club cricket improves and that the conveyor belt of young players with the ability to go on and represent the White Rose county increases.

Not that some leading Yorkshire players do not appear in the Yorkshire League on occasions, with Jonny Bairstow playing for Yorkshire Academy against Sheffield Collegiate at Abbeydale earlier this month before featuring for the county at Durham, where he scored 95. The likes of Gary Ballance, formerly on the books of Barnsley, Collegiate product Joe Root and Adam Lyth, whose club is Scarborough, have also played in the competition.

But the appearances of county players have been sporadic, with many alternatively playing in the Bradford League on occasions instead.

Ward said: “Ours is a good league and moves are afoot to change things as far as Yorkshire cricket is concerned and have a pyramid system in place.

“The plans are ongoing with the help of the county club and Yorkshire Cricket Board.

“A pyramid system involving the best clubs and leagues in the country and us all working together is what I and the league want.

“We want people to aspire to play in the Premier League at the likes of Scarborough, Abbeydale or Clifton Park in York.

“The theory is to get good players playing on good wickets against good quality opposition. That’s what it is all about, playing a game which mirrors the county game and preparing good quality players for county cricket.

“You look at the players who have played in the league in the past three or four years – Joe Root, who played at Sheffield Collegiate, Gary Ballance, who played at Barnsley and also 
Jonny Bairstow. They learned their trade on good quality pitches against quality opposition.

“There’s nothing better than rocking up and seeing the opposition includes the likes of Gary Ballance and Jonny. I also remember Alex Lees got a hundred versus Doncaster last season.

“But at the minute, the county are not telling the players that they should play in the Yorkshire League. What we are wanting to do is open that umbrella for Yorkshire cricket, so they can tell their young players to play in the league.

“It would be nice to see a pyramid system where everyone is working together like in other counties to prepare players to play county cricket.

“Most counties have a pyramid system. There’s 26 Premier Leagues and most sit on top of pyramid systems in their own counties.”

Ward added: “What we want 
is exactly the same. We don’t want a stand-alone league. We want to be part of a pyramid system where everyone works together.

“Every league has its own boundaries, rules and make-up and we need to talk together. We need to put that aside and talk about having a pyramid system so that cricket in Yorkshire is good again.

“It’s a work in progress. The problem is that Yorkshire is like four counties going into one.

“The statistics say a big percentage of cricket in this country is played in Yorkshire and it’s a difficult job for the (Yorkshire Cricket) Board.

“There’s a lot of personalities involved and it’s just a case of getting around the table.

“Nothing is finalised and in stone, but we just want those negotiations to take place.”