Explosive hitting, fierce competition and a thrilling finish, what more could you want from a one-day match?
But the action wasn’t coming from Lord’s, Edgbaston or The Oval but from a small, picturesque club ground in Herefordshire.
The match, Herefordshire v Oxfordshire, was part of the second round of matches in this year’s MCCA Trophy 50-over competition.
The home side triumphed by 10 runs in a nail-biting finale to a game that featured more than 500 runs, 17 wickets and fine performances from former first-class cricketers and potential stars of the future alike.
But despite the quality of cricket on show the question remains whether, in the age of academies, the MCC Universities scheme and premier league club cricket, there is still a need for the Minor Counties game.
One person who believes there is a place for it is former Gloucestershire wicketkeeper Steve Adshead. The 31-year-old is currently enjoying his third spell with Herefordshire following his release by the Bristol-based club last year.
Adshead first played at this level in 1998 and 1999, prior to signing for Leicestershire and again in 2003 before joining Gloucestershire. He says the minor counties competition and the 50-over C&G Trophy, where amateur counties took on their first-class counterparts, were central to helping him and others get into the professional game.
He said: “That was obviously a great shop window and a few guys did well out of that. The fact that you are able to show you can compete at that level also gives you the confidence to go on. It didn’t help me directly but it was really useful.
“The second time, in 2003, I was between contracts and it was a way to carry on playing long cricket and have the chance to show what you can do by making really big scores. When you are professional you are playing and training all the time and it allowed me to keep doing that.”
Adshead, who has opened the 2011 season with scores of 103 against Hertfordshire and 79 against Oxfordshire, says he has no doubt that his deal with Gloucestershire in 2004 owed much to his performances for Herefordshire. It also played a part in securing a loan spell at Derbyshire last year.
He added: “Counties do watch the scores and see who’s done well. I know last year whenever I got runs the coaching staff at Gloucestershire would know about it and text me and the reason is that they like to keep in touch with who’s doing what.”
The evidence of this is borne out by a growing number of players being offered trials in the wake of performances at the tier below. They include Herefordshire and former Wales all-rounder Brad Wadlin, 21, who begins the season on trial season at Northants, and seamer Mitch Wilson, currently at Derbyshire after impressing for Dorset.
The proliferation of players making the step up has been boosted by the formation and subsequent success of the Unicorns last year.The team, made up of non-contracted players, compete against the first-class counties in the Clydesdale Bank 40 competition.
Mike O’Shea (Glamorgan) and Wes Durston (Derbyshire) have both found their way back into the first-class game after a year with the side.
Derbyshire head coach John Morris, who signed Adshead, Durston and Wilson said he felt the minor counties game still had an important role to play in the domestic set-up.
He said: “It has a definite role. The relevance of Minor Counties is for local lads to aspire to play for their own counties with a view to being picked up by the first-class counties. We don’t get a chance to watch it particularly but we always keep an eye on the Minor Counties scores for young talent and who’s doing what.”
Both Adshead and Morris agree that the standard of Minor Counties cricket is similar to that of Second XI county cricket and is particularly strong in the batting department.
Adshead said: “I still think the standard is surprisingly good considering you are relying on people to take time off work to play. There are a lot of good batters in particular. You don’t get many tearaway quick bowlers because they don’t get missed. It is the batters and spinners that tend to get missed because they develop later. Counties don’t have the money to have a 22 or 23-year-old on a contract if they are not playing first-class cricket.”
Morris added: “First-class counties are all looking for ‘the next Dennis Lillee’ who can bowl 85 clicks at 18 and play in the first team but it takes longer for a lot of players and that is where Minor Counties cricket can come in.
“Everything has its timescale and players do develop at different rates. Fast bowlers have a shorter career and may start earlier while it can be a slower learning curve for young spinners. We have to have somewhere for these young players to show their talents, and it’s good for the game.”
As well as providing a platform for potential stars of the future, Adshead believes the Minor Counties set-up also boosts the recreational game by improving club players who pass on their experience to others.
He said: “It must have the knock-on effect of making recreational cricket better. I think it feeds down. Players will go back to their clubs and work with the younger lads there as well as improving the standard of their leagues. I think the more quality cricket you can play the better.”
This learning curve is enhanced by the scattering of ex-pros such Adshead and Shaun Udal, now at Berkshire, who have chosen to ply their trade at Minor Counties level following the end of their first-class careers.
Both Adshead and Morris agree that while the amateur game shouldn’t be flooded with former professionals they can play an important role.
Adshead said: “I think it is important to keep experience in the game. It shouldn’t be full of ex-pros but when they play it is a chance to share a lot of ideas with people.” And Morris added: “I’m not so sure it’s for older players who have had first-class careers because they may block off younger players but at the same time it can be good to have a senior player in there.”
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