Tie-breakers always seem unnecessarily cruel. No matter what method is used, no matter what decision is decided, it always seems unfair in one way or another.
And the European Division One Twenty20 tournament, held this month in Jersey, was no exception. Coming into the final day of play, the victors of the two main matches would split the tournament between them on Net Run Rate alone.
In Jersey vs Guernsey, the victory to the home side was expected, but the margin of victory – leaving 33 balls to spare – was huge. It left Denmark with it all to do against Italy, an exceptionally strong team.
Perhaps if Denmark hadn’t allowed Carl Sandri to settle in and bowl a typically tidy four-over spell, they would’ve pipped Jersey. Perhaps if Aftab Ahmed’s first delivery to Michael Raso had taken the edge rather than slide past it, his 45 off 34 wouldn’t have demoted Denmark’s NRR so dramatically.
But that’s all somewhat facile, because Jersey’s NRR was so far ahead of that of the Danes, that the Denmark side would’ve had to have saved another 78 runs over the course of the tournament to have sneaked ahead. Jersey did the hard work, and grabbed the tournament by the horns.
And as it is, the ‘ifs’ are misleading. The result is what happened, and Jersey won the tournament. Denmark’s right to complaint is that they beat Jersey – comprehensively – earlier in the competition.
Whilst in most events, the disappointment would have been justified anyway, this particular example was even more gut-wrenching for the vanquished. The tournament winners qualified for the World Twenty20 qualifiers, held in Scotland and Ireland this July.
So while thoroughly disappointed for the Danes, especially as someone with strong Danish heritage, I also felt a sense of excitement for the team who were crowned the winners. For an island with a shy under 100 000 people, the result was somewhat unexpected worldwide.
Italy have Carl Sandri, a former Big Bash League player. Denmark have Amjad Khan, a former England Test cap. Even Guernsey have Tim Ravenscroft, a formerly Hampshire-contracted talent.
Jersey have no such world-stage figures.
“It’s massive for Jersey, we’re playing at a higher level than we could’ve dreamt of,” says Chris Minty, the Jersey Cricket Board CEO. “It’s already attracting a lot of interest at the moment, and my interview with you is a good example of that. Within the island now, there is a real feel-good factor about cricket, and about Jersey cricket. In particular hosting proper tournaments in the island, of which we’ve had quite a few over the years.”
What’s immediately noticeable – both when researching the island’s cricket, and when speaking to Minty – is that Jersey have invested in the resources and infrastructure that will allow the sport to thrive and develop itself. While so many Associates tend to look simply at the top-flight, at the representative First-XI, Jersey have developed a system that caters for all.
Right down to the kids.
“Yes, we’ve actually got national sides going down to under-elevens. And a lot of the players in the current team who played in the qualifiers, I remember them coming through as ten, eleven, twelve year-olds, so that is really very satisfying indeed.”
Naturally, there’s always more to cricket than the game itself. It’s about infrastructure and ‘the system’ and preparing correctly to be ready for the sport itself. In that regard, Jersey are well ahead of the rest.
During the European Division One tournament, three grounds were shown off – Farmers’ Field, Florence Boot (FB) Fields and Grainville Cricket Ground. All three are exceptionally high-standard grounds, with good wickets and facilities.
“FB Fields and Grainville are owned and maintained by the States of Jersey, which is the government, as part of their investment into sporting facilities in the island. Generally speaking, the sporting facilities here are of a very high quality across the board, not just for cricket.
“The other ground, Farmers’ Field, is a privately owned ground. Owned by an ex-farmer, who had some ground which he thought was surplus to requirements, and he converted it pretty much by himself into a beautiful cricket ground. You’ve seen the pictures of it – it’s a beautiful cricket ground. That’s a labour of love for him, he maintains it very well, and we’re very lucky to be able to use it.”
And it turns out that Jersey have more grounds than those we’ve seen recently. “Two grounds that you didn’t see, that we didn’t use in the tournament, are also very good indeed. And they’re just not as convenient as the three we did use in the tournament.”
His summation of the value of those grounds is quite succinct. “We’re lucky.”
Minty believes that Jersey are particularly fortunate to have the government investment and interest that they do, but also suggests that Jersey aren’t alone in having access to the development of such facilities. In his own words: “I think we’re very fortunate to play on the quality of grounds that we do play, but I think every country has the ability to create its own facilities in some way or other, we’re just very fortunate in that our government is prepared to invest in sport to that extent.”
Those grounds, of course, cater to more than the national side. The infrastructure in place has also allowed a thriving “domestic programme” within the island, which sees a “variety of T20, 50-over and 40-over cricket”.
Saturday cricket and evening cricket both thrive: each has three divisions playing, and all told “eight or nine-hundred” players are involved. That’s a surprisingly active competition for such a small population, and rivals the activity levels of this author’s home city – the largest Minor Association in New Zealand.
Not only that, but Minty sees that growing and expanding further.
“That can only improve when our young players, leaving school, start playing the leagues. Which is why I concentrate on development programmes when they’re younger, to feed into the league cricket system, and then perform well there, to feed into the national system.”
Jersey is quickly becoming the blueprint for the development of an Associate cricket team, and Minty is of the belief that it’s the hard work below the representative side that makes the difference.
“I think we’re probably a reasonably good indicator that if you’re prepared to invest in your grassroots cricket, then you can actually make progress. We’ve been investing in cricket development here in Jersey since 1996, we joined the ICC in 2005, and I think we’re now seeing the benefits of the system that was put down in the late ‘90s. Which has been enhanced since then, but the basic system was in place, and that helps us produce good cricketers. We’ve got a young man who played in the tournament, Jonty Jenner, who is now involved with Sussex County Cricket Club, and there will be others following that route I suspect.”
One of the problems Jersey will face, being such a small cricketing community located just off the coast of England (and part of the United Kingdom), is that the best young talents will go offshore. They’ll end up going to schools in the UK on sporting merit, and go through county academies over there.
That might eventuate in First Class representation, or it might not, but it certainly will take the most talented youngsters away from Jersey shores. So how will Jersey go about making sure that the best cricketers do filter through to the national side?
“I think it’s something we’re looking at now, obviously. I don’t think we would try and hold any cricketer back from improving his game or playing at a higher level. We would just like them to play as much for us as they possibly can. But if they see a professional career developing as a cricketer, it wouldn’t be for us to stand in their way, I don’t think.”
Of late, one other roadblock has been in Jersey’s way too. While the rapid ascent up the Twenty20 charts has been noticeable and noticed, the 50-over format of the game has been less successful for the side. They currently sit back in Division Five of the World Cricket League, having recently failed to capitalise on promotion to Division Four. Advancing the team’s progress in that format has been something that the board has worked on – in 2013, a one-day quad-series was held with Denmark, Guernsey and Italy.
“I think the hope is now that we find our correct level in the World Cricket League. We think that the World Cricket League is a very good set of tournaments for countries hoping to play ODIs. We’ve sort of moved from five, to four, and back down to five again, and we’re hoping to find our right level. And it’s difficult to know where that is, but a lot depends on where these tournaments are played. Last year we played a tournament in Kuala Lumpur very successfully, and we then went to Singapore where we weren’t quite as successful. For our players, all of whom are amateurs, to play two big tournaments in three or four months is a big ask. Once that sort of settles down, and we can get a decent gap between tournaments, I think our performances could improve.”
But even so, being in Division Four (or five) of the WCL is an impressive achievement when cricket has only been taken seriously on the island for 19 years, and has only been an ICC member for ten of those. A lot of the rise from 1996 to ICC membership in 2005 was down to the efforts of the late Keith Dennis, a player-turned-administrator who moved to the island in the 1990s and dedicated countless hours to improving the standard of cricket on the island.
The rise in the ten years since has been as rapid as in the nine years prior, so who – or what – can claim credit for that?
“The ICC membership has allowed us to invest in additional coaching and coaches. For example, we now have a national coach, which you have to have to be an ICC Associate member. But to have professional coaches working, whereas in the early development days we only had volunteers working on an ad hoc basis, we are now able to implement a professional coaching structure to put really strong systems and procedures in place to enable our young players, and our senior players, to produce the best they can.”
That national coach mentioned by Minty is Neil McRae, the twice ODI-capped Scotsman. Whilst McRae has validated his position by having remarkable success working with the representative side, it’s still a change from the path most go down. In Ireland’s earlier days, in the 1990s, they brought in Mike Hendrick as their first national coach. Hong Kong have an Australian, Afghanistan currently have the former New Zealand coach Andy Moles, and Scotland have Grant Bradburn.
It’s a formula replicated throughout the Associate and Affiliate world. Even their fellow Channel Islanders Guernsey have gone down the path of bringing in a top-rate cricketer as the coach, with Nic Pothas of South Africa and Hampshire fame being the Director of Cricket.
But one thing Pothas, who represented Greece late in his career, has in common with McRae is their experience of Associate cricket, and it’s what led Jersey to appointing the Scot as head coach.
“I think it’s important that you try and employ coaches with relative experience. Neil had experience of Associate cricket before he came to us, which we felt was very important, and we just felt it was a good fit. And so it has proved to be.”
On the subject of Guernsey, the two sides are brilliant as case studies to contrast. Great rivals on the field, it’s perhaps because of their proximity – the distance between the two islands is less than that between Edgbaston and New Road.
And one way they’ve differed is in Guernsey’s recent plans to enter into English league cricket, via the Sussex Cricket League. It’s something Jersey haven’t pursued, and according to Minty, have no intentions to pursue.
“At the moment, we’re not looking at the English league option, because we don’t think it would fit with us at the moment. While we’re as busy as we are with ICC tournaments across the age-groups, we don’t think we could do justice to something like that even if we could afford it. I think we’re happier to look at concentrating on our Associate cricket and getting to the highest level there.”
So while exporting the team out isn’t part of Jersey’s plans, importing others may well be. In 2002, a women’s ODI tri-series was held on the island, with England, India and New Zealand playing the first three matches on the island, before moving over to Durham for the back-end of the series.
Minty saw that as having a large positive impact on Jersey cricket, bringing in the profile and exposure both for those within the island, and raising Jersey’s profile to those on the outside.
“That women’s international tri-series here was a bit of a surprise from the ECB when they decided to play that in Jersey, but it certainly raised the profile. We’re now working hard on our women’s cricket, who are now playing in the unofficial European tournaments. So it’s raised the profile and interest across the board.”
But it’s certainly the age-group cricket where Minty sees Jersey’s future as being. It’s there, he believes, that the development of the game will manifest itself in the national side in years to come.
“Well we feel that our junior age-group cricket is getting stronger and stronger, and we’re waiting for those younger players to feed into the domestic cricket clubs, and ultimately become better players and be ready to come into our under-15s, under-19s, and our senior teams at the higher level.”
And that under-19 side has an opportunity to shine in the very near future – albeit against some very tough opposition.
“During the World T20 qualifier in July, we also have an under-19 World Cup qualifier here in Jersey, where we’re hosting Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands in a four-way tournament. The winner goes straight to the Under-19 World Cup, and the runners-up go to another tournament.
“That’s where we are at, at the moment, and we’re sort of punching above our weight slightly, I think. Long may it continue!”