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If you’re a connoisseur of red ball cricket, the MCC Laws and the age of Twenty20 prompts your toes to curl in horror then look away now.
Introducing Last Man Stands: an explosive format still in its infancy but being embraced across the world as an innovative brand of the game.
It’s eight-a-side, frenetic (ten five-ball overs from either end eradicates the faffing between overs) and packed with its own rules from powerplays to the last man remaining at the crease to do battle alone.
Having watched and played LMS, it’s not difficult to gauge its appeal. Done and dusted in a matter of overs, it can be scheduled in after work, a distinctive version with a strong social connection.
Not that it can’t get highly competitive. Each team and player gets individual rankings and there is the tantalising prospect of competing in National Finals or even the World Finals which are next set for Barbados in 2015.
The word that keeps rattling around is ‘alternative’ but to see LMS as an alternative to weekend cricket is to ignore the fact that there’s room for both. Equally, social LMS leagues happily co-exist alongside the more serious Premier Divisions that can contain squads from cricket clubs.
As the England and Wales Cricket Board, County Boards and clubs and teams of every standard grapple with the results of the National Playing Survey, it’s fair to say that debate about how to encourage more people to play cricket (and the style and format they most want) has never been more topical.
To explore the impact of Last Man Stands in Yorkshire, we talked to three teams who’ve got fully involved in the Last Man Stands Leeds & District franchise (now covering Leeds, Bradford & Calderdale).
Symington’s Sledgers play in the Social League in the summer as well as a winter indoor league organised by sister company, 365 Cricket.
Ostensibly a works team (Symington’s is a branded convenience food business based in Leeds), the make-up of their squad comprises a few lads who play weekend cricket in the Aire-Wharfe and Nidderdale Leagues allied with Symington’s employees.
Captain David Fearnley takes up the story:
“Format-wise, it’s ideal for us. Indoor winter league takes us an hour: outdoor summer league just a couple of hours. It’s easier to get players interested if they know it isn’t going to take all day.”
Seeing Last Man Stands as a frivolous evening thrash is also to do it a little disservice; there’s the opportunity to work on your game and tactics as Fearnley acknowledges:
“We’ve all improved as players, and we’re now playing in the Monday indoor Premier League, where we’re holding our own.”
He adds: “We’ve found it a really good social experience. It’s well organized, and it’s brought us together as colleagues and as a team. We get on well with a few of the other teams too, and we’ve borrowed and lent each other fielders when a side has been short.”
The social aspect is worth acknowledging having played against this very opposition last summer as part of a squad of ringers called AllStars. It seems to strike the right balance between playing to win and spending time out in the middle with mates.
So, how serious can it get? Well, franchises are established across the UK but part of the appeal here is that it’s not an insular competition but boasts a global reach with teams from the likes of South Africa, Australia and Pakistan. International rivalry and the chance to take on other countries has its own thrills.
A glance at the global world rankings sees Cow Tippers, New Zealand’s National Champions, out in first ahead of The Unwatchables from South Brisbane. It looks like the LMS frachise model blossome first in SA and Australia but is taking hold here in the UK.
Jerome Jones hit 169* off 65 balls last summer on the Gold Coast of Australia while Darren McCrea’s seven wickets for three runs in Wandsworth back in 2012 still stands proud.
For those of a Yorkshire loyalty, it’s heartening to see two teams in the world top ten from the wonderfully named South Yorkshire squad called Abby’s Diner to Taurus who duke it out in the Leeds Bradford Premier League.
The rankings and stats side to Last Man Stands are there online like a digital seductress and once you jump down that rabbit hole, it can lead you all sorts of weird and wonderful places.
It might come as a surprise given the energy of LMS that that the most capped player in the format (which was only founded as a worldwide amateur cricket league in 2005) is sixty-nine year old South African Clint de Bruyn.
Clint has racked up a quite astonishing 451 innings during which he’s bagged 471 wickets and 11,027 runs. Quite where he finds time either for his IT job or to indulge in his favourite Mexican food is anyone’s guess.
On a windswept Sunday evening, we caught up with Bardsey captain Josh Hughes to talk about what appealed about LMS to encourage the village cricket club in West Yorkshire with two senior teams in the Airedale & Wharfedale League to jump in:
“We didn’t know what to expect from it as we’d never played anything like it. The style of play suits quite a lot of us as we’ve got a really young team who just like to go out and have a smash. The people who play and watched really enjoyed it.”
We talk about captaincy and how teams have to think on their feet but also not panic when the runs don’t so much leak as splurge: “You’ve just got to accept the fact that you’re going to get hit for more runs…”
As someone who’s played at St Chads Broomsfield CC on a ground the size of postage stamp, I can testify first-hand that when it goes pear-shaped, economy rates as we tend to think of them in conventional cricket are straight out of the window.
From our conversation, the experience of playing in the World Championships was a novel one where they won two group games before losing out to Warwickshire’s finest, Attitude XI:
“We went down south, beat some Aussies (Sydney side Old Arrack) although I think they were a bit drunk at the time…”
The wheel turned full circle when Bardsey subsequently hit the London nightlife and turned up a little fragile the next morning and were dispatched by 31 runs, perhaps more inclined to dose under a tree than scoot around fielding at full throttle.
The final cricketing conversation is with Amjid Hussain who skippers ‘Taurus’ who are a group of mainly Bradford-based cricketers. Hussain captains the Bowling Old Lane first eleven in the Bradford League which gives you an idea of their quality.
Their own involvement with LMS stems from playing indoor cricket on a Sunday evening at the Indoor Centre at Headingley so a nucleus of friends were already organised and they thought they’d give it a go:
“It turned out to be quite good fun and we were pleasantly surprised to see that we’d done quite well.”
By quite well, Amjid means they’ve been Bradford Champions, beat Bardsey in the Regional Finals at Headingley and are the seventh best team in the world.
However, it was again the opportunity for a group of friends who play weekend cricket at various clubs at the weekend to join up and keep in touch over summer in the evening league.
The Taurus leading runscorer is Farakh Hussain, the ex-Woodlands batsman who has moved to Undercliffe for the 2014 season, with 584 runs while those that know their Bradford League cricket will recognise a number of names.
They’ve even had Sachin play for them. Ok so not Mr T himself but the far more impressively named Sachin Cohinnadavprigay.
What LMS also allows for Taurus is that freedom to get everyone involved. It’s eight-man set-up naturally means you’ll bat and bowl in all likelihood anyway but as Amjid pointed out, it’s a chance to give experiment:
“We mix it up a bit in Last Man Stands and allow different people to have a go.”
Taurus are now in their third year but it still has scope to surprise given the range of rules unique to the format. Not least the ‘double play rule’ which means two players can be dismissed off the same delivery, if caught or run out.
We share a chuckle over the frequent mayhem that ensues: “When a batsman is caught, it’s really difficult to stop the other batsman from trying to cross…”
Add in quirks like a batsman able to hit the final ball of the innings for twelve runs and you begin to see how LMS has its own identity and personality.
For the more serious teams, there’s actually plenty at stake and incentives are there in 2014. The Road to Barbados will doubtless be paved with flying stumps, brutal batting and action aplenty but the first goal for teams is to qualify for the regional Play Offs on 7 September.
If that hurdle is negotiated, the English winners of the National Finals on 20 and 21 September win themselves a £5000 travel voucher to use towards the cost of travelling out to Barbados, having secured direct entry.
The financial incentives are a welcome bonus with Taurus winning the Plate Final of the National Championships netting £500. Amjid proves an entertaining voice at the end of the Skype call as we kick around the impact and challenges of LMS.
Let’s be clear. It’s not going to be for everyone but if it helps more people play cricket, both seasoned players and newcomers and lapsed cricketers then that has to be a good thing. All three teams we talked to really like the bite-sized format so LMS tends not to impact in the same ways club cricket can.
In West Yorkshire, the Leeds/Bradford franchise has attracted a loyal core support and is very well organised by Paul Berry but still it has to react to and bump against all the other cricket played.
Initially the grounds were limited to being in and around Leeds from St Chads Broomfield CC on the Otley Road along with Richmond House in LS16 and established clubs, Bardsey CC and Thorner Mexborough CC.
But that’s changing with Morley, Crompark, Brighouse and for those who enjoy nostalgia, the old Yorkshire County Cricket ground club at Bradford Park Avenue all set to be used in 2014.
The struggle for Bradford grounds probably taps partly into the fact that the Bradford League has its own Evening League so there’s a degree of congestion and lack of availability of both players and grounds.
The easiest way to find out what’s local is to use the Last Man Stands Venue Finder by just plugging in your postcode.
Doubtless the introduction of the Calderdale region will open up new grounds moving forwards and there’s no reason things can’t go from strength to strength in Yorkshire with Barnsley, Hull, North Yorkshire, Rotherham, Sheffield and Wakefield all set up for LMS.
So, if you’ve played before, why not consider re-entering for 2014 either with an existing team or a group of friends/world-famous superstars. If you’ve never played before, seriously, give it a go either with your own team or by joining a team of renegade ringers.
Cricket Yorkshire gives two enthusiastic thumbs up to Last Man Stands. It’s not a magic remedy in terms of adult participation but certainly deserves its place in the overall mix being played across the UK.
How to get involved:
Registration is now open for the following leagues which will start in April across Leeds, Bradford and Calderdale:
- Premier Leagues – aimed at teams of club standard players.
- Corporate Leagues – aimed at teams of work colleagues.
- Social Leagues – aimed at teams of social cricketers.
If you are interested in entering a team, please click here to register or contact Paul Berry on email: [email protected].
For further details and to register as a player or team, visit http://www.lastmanstands.com/playcricketleeds for the Leeds franchise (or you can search other areas of Yorkshire or the UK).