Watson battles to build a winner

2009-10-21 00:00

THE Inland team’s performance this season has been disappointing and they would probably be the first to admit that.

Every team hopes for better fortunes at the beginning of a season and to be able to put a previously poor season behind them as quickly as possible.

So why are Inland battling to get out of the starting blocks season after season? There is no shortage of talented players from which to draw from, so why aren’t the results forthcoming?

There is no doubt that under player/coach Doug Watson, the levels of professionalism at the Oval have improved enormously. Watson’s tireless work ethic and seasoned discipline have seen practices looking slick and players working hard in the nets.

The fact remains, though, that the Inland team, unlike other first-class teams around the country, is made up almost entirely of amateur players, Watson being the only exception. As amateurs, these cricketers don’t earn enough money to make cricket their livelihood. They do it for the love of the game and for the chance to be noticed by selectors from other franchises, where there is potential for them to make it their career.

Many of the Inland cricketers have to take time off work or from their studies to practise and to play matches. Trying to make a living outside cricket while striving to compete at first-class level is a tricky juggling act.

It’s also an added challenge for coach Watson, who has to schedule practices during the week and in the morning. It means many cricketers are having to take time off work, which in the tough economic climate is a big ask for employers.

It’s easy to sit back and blame the system by saying that league cricket, which should feed first-class cricket, isn’t what it should be. It’s even understandable to say that these are the kind of results we should expect given the fact that amateurs are making up the team. But it’s incredibly demotivating and frustrating for players not to get results year after year.

Yet it wasn’t many years ago that most of the “B” teams around the country comprised almost only amateurs. They, too, were cricketers who were studying or working and were also obliged to take time off work to play and practise. Playing first-class cricket meant making sacrifices. The standard of the first-class cricket then was excellent and this is the kind of level it needs to get back to.

Inland cricket and other first-class teams should be able to provide a platform for talented cricketers to be noticed.

Recognising Inland cricket as a franchise in its own right would be a huge boost in my opinion. Having more money on the table would mean that Doug Watson and his management team could focus on Inland cricket being a breeding ground for talented young cricketers. Instead of Inland amateur cricketers having to worry about making ends meet, they should be able to focus on their game and know that if they work hard their efforts will be rewarded.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that the status quo can’t remain. The sameness and inevitability of poor results season after season is demoralising for everyone involved.

•Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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