SCRAPPING the traditional cricket tea could help slow the decline of the Hampshire Cricket League (HCL).

That is the left-field view of Tony Oxley, a non-executive director of the Hampshire Cricket Board (HCB) and president of Fair Oak CC.

The provision of sandwiches and cakes by the home side has been a feature of village cricket since time immemorial.

But Oxley argues that doing away with the popular tradition could be in the long-term interests of the HCL, which remains the world’s biggest cricket league, despite losing 28 teams in the last year.

“It sounds outlandish but cricket teas are a pain in the a**e to organise and cost too much money,” he said.

“We pay £2,000 a year for our four teams’ teas, so let’s ask players to bring their own food, instead of taking half an hour between innings.

“When I first mentioned it at our club a lot of the youngsters – and by youngsters I mean 25 to 32 year-olds – didn’t like the idea.

“They grew up with their mum and dads doing their teas, but we have to bring in outside caterers.

“Not providing teas would be radical but it would save time and money.”

The future of local cricket was discussed at the HCB’s Stakeholder Day at The Ageas Bowl last Friday. A major restructure is to be proposed at next year’s HCL AGM.

Since last September the HCB, HCL chairman Denis Emery and other local cricket organisations have been asking players what they want at a series of workshops across the county, through Cricket Unleashed, a nationwide ECB initiative to increase participation launched last year.

“We need to be giving people what they want not what we think they want,” continued Oxley.

“As a result of the surveys we’ve come up with a few absolute must-dos; games start and finish too late, they take too long and there’s too much travel.

“We’re talking to players during this season and asking them what their ideal Saturday would look like.

“What we’re hearing is that players don’t want a choice between playing cricket or attending an event in the evening - they want to be able to do both.

“Finishing games at 8pm is putting a lot of people off.

“We’ve suggested starting at 1pm instead of 2pm and reducing overs, especially at lower levels.

“Kids are having to make the jump from 20-over to 42-over matches and not getting as much involvement.

“No wonder they are turned off!

“My focus would be the bottom division, because that’s where we’re losing most teams.”

Of the 30 teams that have dropped out of the HCL in the last 12 months, 13 were in Regional Division Four.

“At that level I think games should be reduced to 35 overs-a-side and increase in increments of five as you go up the pyramid, with County One matches being 50 overs,” continued Oxley.

“I would also regionalise all of the HCL with no more than ten teams in each division to reduce travel.

“Organising such a restructure would be an administrative nightmare but it would help solve these issues.”

The HCL has two new men’s teams so is 28 down on last year overall.

Teams that have dropped out of the HCL since May 2016
County Two: Hobos
County Three North: Flamingo, South Newton.
County Four South: Bidbury, Peartree.
County Four North: Hurstbourne Priors, Old Alresford.
Regional One South: Friends.
Regional One West: Exbury.
Regional Two West: Alderholt, Winton III.
Regional Two South: Bosham.
Regional Two NorthUpper Clatford.
Regional Three North: Overton III.
Regional Three West: Camelot, Lytchett.
Regional Three South: Old N & Highfield IV.
Regional Four NW: Ampfield & North B III, Otterbourne II, Shrewton III, Wherwell II, Winterslow II.
Regional Four SW: Dorset Cricketers, Ellingham IV, Fawley IV, Suttoners III.
Regional Four NE: St Cross Symondians VI, Whitchurch II.
Regional Four SE: Portchester III, Sarisbury Athletic VI.