Thursday, 7 June 2018

Time for Essex County Cricket Club to return to Valentines Park

Essex cricket week in Valentines Park used to be one of the highlights of the summer back in the day.

It was June, the football season had just finished, the sun would be out and Essex cricket week began at Valentines Park.

Teachers and kids would head over to the park in the weekdays, once school had finished, to watch the likes of Graham Gooch, John Lever, Keith Fletcher, Keith Boyce and Ken McEwan thrash the opposition around the field.

On the weekends, we would spend the whole day at the park.

On Saturday there could be a carefully built hundred from Fletcher. But on Sunday, it was the 40 over one-day rush.

One particular Sunday memory was when Sussex were the opponents, with their overseas stars Imran Khan and Garth Le Roux in tandem. The two formed a fearsome bowling partnership but could also bat. I remember well Le Roux and Imran thrashing the ball around as they chased a distant total.

My fondest memories of the Essex Week cricket came in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Essex were becoming a formidable force in all forms of cricket. The team won the county championship no fewer than six times between 1979 and 1992.

Cricket week though disappeared, as the county game took on its four day format. However, Essex continued to visit and entertain.

But by the noughties the popularity of the cricket week seemed to be waning or at least the money coming into the coffers began to fall. So with the costs rising, Essex decided to discontinue Valentines Park cricket in 2002.

Thus, Ilford joined other redundant local arenas, like Leyton, that had previously hosted Essex cricket over the past decades

The counties have tended over the years to reduce their outreach via the likes of festival weeks, confining themselves in most part to the centrally placed county grounds. This however is a rather short sighted policy. Cricket needs to be seen in order that future generations can be attracted to play the game.

It was a fateful decision when the cricket authorities signed their collective soul over to Sky sports thereby removing the game from the tertiary channels where everyone was able to watch – without needing to have special subscriptions etc. the move to Sky was the start of cricket moving to the sporting backwaters.

Cricket needs to reconnect. This means teams getting out of their central bunkers and taking the game to the different corners of the counties. Reconnect with people of all ages, particularly those youngsters who will be the sports life blood of the future. A return to tertiary channels would also be welcome, though maybe less easy to attain.
Let’s hope it happens, Essex cricket is now on the up again, winning the country championship last year – the first time since 1992. How wonderful it would be to see county cricket again in Valentines Park and other local venues in the coming years

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