THE new Bristol Youth League campaign gets underway on Monday evening with Rockhampton hosting Coalpit Heath in an Under-11s Express match.
The players will naturally be delighted to be back in their whites and out in the middle after so many months of covid-related concerns, as will parents and officials.
But there’s a special reason to celebrate this particular game as it marks the start of the 50th anniversary season of a league which was established by eight far-sighted club reps who met in 1971 to form an under-17 competition.
On-going uncertainty around the pandemic has meant that the league has decided to postpone any formal festivities until next year. Instead, the landmark is being marked by a player-centred ‘revolution’ as youth cricket in the Bristol area continues to evolve to meet changing needs.
Chairman Jim Donaldson said: “This revolution is firmly based on newer volunteers and their additional skills, and the adjustments that we had to bring in for last season’s curtailed programme. So for the BYCL, after the initial frustration and major concerns, the pandemic has proved highly constructive.
“Over the winter, in conjunction with the clubs, we have developed a new, competitive structure, which we believe is better ‘player centred’.
“For the league competitions in the U13, 15 and 17 age groups, clubs can select one of three ‘tiers’ – Foundation, Participation and Performance – for their teams, which should provide better balanced matches right across the different levels.
“The under 11s already have the choice of ‘Elevens Express’ and ‘Super 8s’. And this choice will be available to clubs every season, as with teams stepping up age groups, any idea of promotion and relegation between tiers is unsustainable.
“The nine KO cup competitions at each age group will continue as before. In addition, following the success of playing through the holidays, we will be organising separate competitions at each age group, for those clubs who have teams wishing to continue playing through later July and August.
“As this will be a new format, we are letting clubs settle in, and will be asking for entries for the Summer Competitions during the season.
“Overall, we believe that these welcome developments will provide more meaningful cricket for all young players, as well as offering more opportunities for those who want to play more matches.
“This season is very much seen as a ‘pilot’, and we may not have everything balanced, but we will see. All of this is on the back of the BYCL entering the 10th year of our highly successful partnership with DFCA Coaching.
“In addition, led by Chris Shine and Martin Peters, we are piloting an innovative and less time consuming method of creating the league and KO cup fixtures, directly involving the clubs using new technology. And this year, despite the pandemic, we have small increases in the numbers of teams at the young age groups, and numbers holding up well at the older levels.”
Main image courtesy Winterbourne Cricket Club