Don Topley: What a few weeks for Essex... and Swardeston!
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Don Topley reflects on an exciting week for two East Anglian cricket clubs – at different ends of the spectrum
Essex's cricketers would have partied hard in Taunton on Thursday night, after the county won another Championship Title, the most challenging domestic trophy to win.
They would have continued their celebrations on the team bus upon returning to Chelmsford.
It's been an amazing week for the club, completing a splendid fourth 'double trophy' winning season.
History suggests nothing was won for over 100 years before Essex collected their first trophy in 1979. In fact it was a double winning season - they won the Championship and the B&H Cup. Another double success was followed in 1984, 1985 and now the 2019 season.
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Essex, together with Somerset, have mopped up all domestic trophies and they are rightly the two most successful and out-performing county teams among the 18.
Almost identical, another double cup-winning achievement was secured by an amateur cricket club team not far from Essex.
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A small Norfolk village some five miles south of Norwich, won an unprecedented National club double: Swardeston Cricket Club won the National 40 Over Cup at Lord's last week and then went on to win the National t20 Club Competition at Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
It was remarkable that Swardeston completed their own amazing double success, particularly considering the strong Birmingham League clubs, the historic Lancashire and Yorkshire League sides and the large amateur sides around the Home Counties too.
There are many similarities between Essex CCC and Swardeston CC.
Both cricket teams have limited finances available and perhaps, underwhelming home grounds and facilities: Swardeston's is the village common and some rate the Chelmsford County Ground as one of the lesser grounds.
More importantly though, both rely on local talent and their own excellent development pathway.
In Swardeston's case most of their players have come through Norfolk's age-group system. Only a 'Gatting' (nephew of Mike) is a professional.
Essex are one the most productive county clubs with regards local player talent and their Cricket Academy. Their 'Return On Investment' is impressive. Only Ryan Ten Doeschate, Simon Harmer and the occasional overseas professional is from outside the county. Essex did not have an overseas pro on t20 Finals Day nor in their recent winning championship sides.
This develops and represents a positive dressing room culture, good harmony and contributes to the team ethos, which you cannot buy or simply replicate. That's really special and I can remember that same experience and atmosphere from my own Essex playing days.
Success or playing in National Finals is not new to Swardeston, as they have participated in many finals, including winning the t20 Club Competition in 2010 and 2016. 2019 is the first time that one amateur club has ever won both countrywide competitions. Some record that!
Staying with t20 and in particular the professional arena, I would offer an alternative format for Finals' Day at Edgbaston, which has definitely become a popular social event.
A capacity crowd enjoys three successive matches (two semi-finals and the final). Its a very long day, unless you live in Birmingham.
Annually we experience David 'Bumble' Lloyd singing Sweet Caroline, the time-filling Mascot Race and there's the infamous Hollies Stand who sing, shout and build beer-snakes and come in fancy dress for the occasion.
I personally could not sit in the 'Hollies' stand, with people perpetually standing up, and the view of the cricket continually obscured by the Conga of 'Super Marios' and 'Where's Wally' characters. I want to watch the cricket.
Some might suggest it's the occasion, but only 750 cricket supporters of each Essex, Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire have the opportunity to purchase tickets.
Once their own administrators, employees and partners take up their allocation there really aren't too many left for the county fans. Last year, there was only about 500 per team among the capacity 25,000 audience.
Most people and groups purchase their t20 finals tickets online in very early season not knowing who is going to be there - it has become a stagfest with the cricket almost a by-product especially in the evening's final.
It's been a successful formula but we can do it much better.
Controversially, I would amend the latter stages of the competition. Currently the last eight are simply an important pay day for the home team. Only weeks ago we saw how important the toss was in those September quarter finals, which in reality became more significant than the pay day.
Interestingly, and not for the first time, teams coming fourth in their group surprisingly made it to the evening's Final. Counties who traditionally win their section got knocked out in the quarter finals. Is that right?
Should we not reward excellence in performance and move to something similar to the Indian Premier League and Big Bash?
Teams who win their league go through automatically to the semi-finals. Teams in 2nd and 3rd play off for the right to be in the semi-final. There's nothing for 4th place.
Last Saturday's t20 finalists, Worcestershire and Essex, came 4th in their respective groups of t20 and Essex won only five of their 14 group games. Many will suggest they weren't the best side in t20 but eventually won the competition on Finals' Day on a poor pitch made for them and spin king, Harmer.
I would prefer a different system after the group stages: both semi-finals would be played on the same day at a Test Ground allowing decent opportunity for supporters to travel. A game at midday and a game in mid/late afternoon would be convenient for all, including fans. The winners - both men and women - would then be awarded a Grand Final at a large Test Ground with entertainment between the two finals to make a full day of it.
Grounds would then be filled by the participating County supporters, bringing back memories of the many wonderful Lord's County Finals of the past. I think it would really improve the experience of t20.