As the 2017 season drew to a close, there was widespread bewilderment on social media as to why so many remaining fixtures weren't played. There were crucial matches in many divisions that now have the sorry note attached to them - "Match not played". Not because of rain, but seemingly because the two teams involved found too many problems in trying to find a mutually acceptable date. Is this a fair summation? We thought the issue should be explored.
If you look closely at any of the Open Competition league tables, there is a column entitled "NR", or "No Result". Very occasionally this may be due to some form of the out of the ordinary, which led the OCC to void a fixture. But normally each and every one of these "No Result" matches is one of these three:
1. A game rained off. In Divisions 1 and 2, rained off matches have to be refixed (normally as a T20 match) - it is only when a second attempt is rained off that the match is recorded as a No Result. But in Divisions 3-16, a league match that is rained off is lost for ever and cannot be refixed in any circumstances. Any play in the match is forgotten about, and the match is added as a No Result. The one exception is if such a fate befalls both of the matches between two teams during a season, the first match must be refixed. Of the 809 league matches that were scheduled to be played in the Open Comps this year, 60 were rained off in this way.
2. For the 2017 season, six divisions (8, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 16) only had seven teams. As a result, any match that was rained off could be refixed, as long as the arrangements were made within three days of the original fixture. If the two clubs involved could not come up with a date for a refixture within the three days, the match is forgotten about, and the match is recorded as a "No Result". As these divisions only had 12 matches per side, one would have thought that teams would have been desperate to refix matches that they were allowed to. But in 18 cases in these divisions, the sides couldn't make the necessary arrangements to refix the match.
3. Unless a match exists in one of the two areas above, it must be played. There are no exceptions. But increasingly many matches are not played, contrary to the requirement to play. In all these cases there was originally a date to play the match, but for one reason or another - perhaps because one of the teams advanced in a cup, perhaps because a higher or lower team in a club advanced in a cup, perhaps because both matches were rained off - they weren't refixed. There are plenty of regulations that deal with this state of affairs. Clubs have to meet certain deadlines to refix the match, but in an incredible 22 cases, the clubs didn't get round to refixing it, and unless the OCC decided that both teams had an interest in promotion or relegation issues, the match was scrubbed, with no penalty for either side.
In total in the 2017 season. 100 of the 809 scheduled league matches were not played. How does this compare with previous seasons?
Looking back over the Cricket Leinster archives, it is possible to see how many matches weren't played in league cricket going back to 1991. It is something of a laborious task, so I looked at a selection of years going back to 1991. The proportion of matches not played has been fairly consistent, although the one thing to be wary of is that for years past, we do not know the reasons why matches were called off - only that that they did not take place.
There is always a popular cry that, "Back in the 1990s there was much more cricket, we had 12 team leagues and played every week!" The reality doesn't quite match that nostalgic vision though. There may have been bigger leagues, but for one reason or another, matches still weren't played. The number of matches played every year has broadly increased, although there is some fluctuation annually merely down to how the leagues are structured (for example this year there were many seven team leagues, meaning less matches).
|Year||Matches not played||Matches played||Total matches||Met Eireann wet summer ranking|
Using Met Eireann data, it is possible to try and work out how big an effect rain has on the number of games called off. By ranking the amount of rain in the months of May, June and July (these are the months that bad weather causes cricket in Leinster the most problems, due to the playing of cup competitions) in each of the six years we have cricketing data for (2010, 2013-2017), we can see that 2013 and 2014 were the driest two summers - and not surprisingly were the two summers with least cricket cancelled. The second wettest summer was 2010, with the most matches cancelled. Perhaps surprisingly, 2017 was the wettest of these summers, but only had the 4th highest number of matches cancelled - we should have expected many more.
So perhaps this is all a (summer) storm in a tea cup? There is a pretty strong correlation between the amount of rain and the number of matches cancelled. The one reason to be worried is the rapid rise in the number of matches that clubs don't get round to refixing and that the OCC just scraps. There were 10 of these in 2014, 14 in 2015, 15 in 2016 and 22 this year. Surely, either we are here to play competitive sport or we're not?
So what are the reasons behind these other, non rain affected matches not being played?
[a] In this day and age, it is not normally that hard to pick up a phone, message a club, or send an email. Whilst there are numerous examples each year of clubs failing to respond to email requests to refix a game, this tends not to be an issue in getting matches re-arranged.
[b]Although it may be a slightly controversial point, one of the main reasons why matches are not replayed is that is doesn't suit a team. Perhaps they are leading and don't fancy a tricky match against the 3rd place team? Perhaps the third place team doesn't fancy travelling to the leaders, with the potential for a position changing slip up.
[c] Some times the weather just happens to conspire against teams. An excellent example of this is the Division 3 match between Pembroke 2 and Malahide 2 this year. Both league matches were rained off. The clubs then arranged two further refixes, and both of these were rained off as well. What more could they do?
[d] Ground availability is not as big a problem as many would imagine. An excellent example of this is Merrion, who despite having the most teams, very rarely have home matches that are not refixed. What is an issue with most clubs is that they do not have ground availability when they can also put a good team out. Whilst only anecdotal, email trails that pass through the hands of Cricket Leinster over the season would suggest that this is the main reason behind matches not being played. It is not so much that "We can't find a spare evening", but rather, "We can't find a spare evening and a decent top four"
[e] It can be hard to get a team for a match. Perhaps a team doesn't fancy another trip up to Dublin, another journey down the country, or another plea to the boss to let them finish at 3pm to travel for an evening T20 match. It is much easier to not play the match.
[f] Perhaps the match is "dead". Neither team can be promoted; neither team can be relegated. There is simply no interest in playing the game. Although that does raise the question as to whether ayone wants to play cricket for the love of the game!
[g] And finally, there is the possibility that administrational oversight leads to matches not being played. People are busy. Priorities lay elsewhere. There are more important things to do, even within cricket clubs.
So what can be done?
Cricket Leinster already has some extensive regulations regarding the refixing of matches. Should anyone have an hour to spare, they can have a look at section 10 of the General Playing Regulations. In many cases these regs are ignored though. Should they be more strictly enforced? Should they be more widely publicised?
Another oft quoted problem is the use of percentages in league tables. A team knows that they can retain their current percentage if a game is not played. If they instead received only 8 points for a rained off match, would that persuade them to play (as happens in Division 1 and 2)?
Have you any thoughts? What do you think should be done? Please leave comments below, as any input will be developed at the forthcoming club day.