The decision means a new linear structure for the WEPL which will cater for the 70 best teams and no longer be exclusive to just 1st XI’s. For those playing in divisions below Premier One there will be less travelling and shorter match days as well as a standardised promotion and relegation system.
The catalyst for change was the ECB’s 2014 national playing survey which showed a worrying reduction in the number of people playing cricket in the region and a need for the game to take urgent steps to address this decline.
Eighty five per cent of clubs voted in favour of the proposals at the WEPL annual general meeting last night, many welcoming the news on their Twitter accounts later as “common sense” and “positive”. Some doubts remain though, particularly about which clubs will be reassigned to feeder leagues.
The Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Cricket Boards released an unprecedented joint statement ahead of the AGM, urging clubs to accept the proposals.
The statement read: “Eight key organisations (three cricket boards, the WEPL and four feeder leagues) have come together and used all the evidence available to them to unanimously agree on a league structure for club cricket in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire that is fit for purpose for the foreseeable future. This is the first time that such collaborative working has occurred which demonstrates a recognition from those involved in managing the game that change is needed.
“The 2014 national playing survey has been the catalyst for change. The players have spoken and clubs and leagues need to listen and act accordingly if we are to halt the decline in participation. The leagues have done their part and have worked together admirably to propose a restructure across the region for the long term good of the game.”
The ECB survey had shown concern among players in the West of England, particularly among those playing in tiers 3 and 4 and in 2nd XI sides, about the length of match days, start and finish time of games and the distance involved in travelling to fixtures.
The proposed 2016 structure addresses these concerns by having one division at WEPL 1 level, two regional WEPL 2 divisions (Bristol/Somerset and Gloucestershire/Wiltshire) and four regional divisions split further again (Bristol and North Somerset; Somerset; Gloucestershire and Wiltshire) for WEPL 3. That makes seven divisions of ten teams, comprising 70 teams in total (a mixture of both 1st and 2nd XIs).
Below that will be the feeder leagues from Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
With only the 70 ‘best’ 1st and 2nd XI teams going through to the new WEPL set-up, officials now have the difficult task of establishing the criteria for determining which sides stay in the league in 2016 and how to reassign the remaining 80 sides in the current WEPL into feeder leagues.
One thing most clubs are agreed on is that the restructure will make the results of this season more important than ever.
The WEPL has committed to advising all clubs of the criteria they intend to use prior to the start of the new season on 2 May.
As well as reducing the length of match days and reducing travelling for those in regional divisions below Premier One, the WEPL and the boards hope that the new structure will:
- reduce the length of match days and increase challenging opposition for those currently playing 2nd XI Premier One cricket; and
- reduce the overs played and length of match days for 1st XI tier four players in the feeder leagues – although fears emerged from some players on Twitter today that shorter games in the feeder games (45 overs as opposed to 50) may deter some people from playing as they are less likely to get a bat.
The 2016 structure also aims to:
- Provide the strongest quality of cricket possible for all clubs and their teams.
- Provide meaningful cricket for 2nd XIs (and 3rds, 4ths etc).
- Create fluidity that will allow cricket teams to reach their potential and to find the level appropriate to their players’ abilities.
- Solve promotion and relegation problems (geography and simplicity) within 1st and 2nd XI structures of WEPL.
- Minimise and ensure avoidance of unnecessary travel.
The joint statement from the three boards added: “A major factor in people leaving or thinking about leaving the game is the time commitment required to play. The two main factors affecting the length of a club cricketer’s day are travel time to matches and number of overs played.
“These two factors need to reduce accordingly the lower down the leagues you get so that length of day is appropriate to standard of play. The current WEPL structure does not allow this to happen and this is reflected in what WEPL players have said.
“Making a second team player travel from Goatacre to Taunton (90 minutes each way), Chard to Lechlade (107 minutes each way) or Bridgwater to Swindon (82 minutes each way) when people are more ‘time poor’ than ever before is no longer sustainable. Reducing the travel for WEPL second teams in the proposed structure will certainly not reduce the standard of cricket played, it will actually enable teams to find their own level and play a more appropriate standard of cricket with less travel.
“We appreciate that there is a natural reluctance to any sort of change and voting for the ‘unknown’ can be uncomfortable, however the eight key organisations involved in administrating league cricket are unanimous in their beliefs that the proposed structure is vital for the successful future of club cricket in our region.”
* The WEPL is not the only league looking at introducing a new structure. An Extraordinary General Meeting of the Devon Cricket League in November also identified dissatisfaction with late Saturday finish times, sometimes compounded by players having long distances to travel. Changes are similarly being planned to the lower leagues for that reason.