At the start of the season, the future of Jewish cricket looked bleak after the collapse of the Maccabi Sunday League. We asked some of the stalwarts of the game for their thoughts on the concept of a super-club. With the season virtually over, Benedict Bermange, a cricket statistician for Sky Sports, believes that clubs should remain separate.
It is certainly sad the way the game has declined over the years. I speak as someone who made his MAL debut as a 14-year-old back in 1989 (and scored 25 not out). Back then, there were a relatively large number of clubs, and subsequently at least six teams entered the Midweek League. Can you imagine trying to put teams out on a regular basis for 20-over midweek cricket now? Practically impossible due to work schedules, apathy, traffic and goodness knows what else.
I stuck with MAL through thick and thin, and by the end of 1999 things were looking decidedly dicey for us. Pretty much the equivalent of an entire team had left over a year or two for various reasons including aliyah, children, moving away and wanting to play more competitive cricket, and it was only as a result of the merger with FZY that the club was able to continue.
Captaining the side on the field was fine - the players were a great bunch - it was just a struggle to put 11 players on the field. And we had put out two teams for more than a decade thanks to the tireless efforts of Bob Leveson, who captained the 2nds for most of that time, and even a third XI and Colts team in the mid-1990s.
If the MAL side of things had youth on its side, FZY were an ageing team who had played together for the best part of 20 years but were all having children at the same time and had other pressures too, despite counting some excellent cricketers among their number. Therefore it seemed a good mix on that side of things, and there's also the fact that in all my years of playing for MAL, not one player had left due to dissatisfaction with how the club was run or any kind of personality clash.
In my opinion a number of things play a part in Jewish cricket. I stuck with MAL as I enjoyed playing for them. When Jonathan Lederman moved to Vale midway through a season, leaving me as captain by default, I was asked on a number of occasions to join other teams and play "more competitive cricket". However, on a personal level, at MAL we had worked hard to build up some good fixtures at some lovely grounds over many years, and I was loathe to leave our annual trip to Pavenham, Tring Park and other delights. There was still the Stuart Neils Cup and the pre-season indoor tournament. That was enough Jewish cricket for me. I just wanted to play and enjoy my cricket and as a member of the Maccabi Cricket Committee for a few years, I was sad to see the disputes that cropped up with various teams.
Everyone has their own priorities. I wanted to play friendly cricket with people I liked. For a few years I played league cricket with Old Haberdashers on Saturdays too. I admit that for religious reasons, most of the current MAL team would not play on Saturdays. I suppose we need to ask ourselves: "What is more important? People enjoying their cricket or having a competitive Maccabiah team?" We have spent a huge amount of time and effort at MAL to build the club up from near-collapse and now it is one of the leading lights of Jewish cricket with a team that I hardly recognise. It is immensely satisfying for me to see the 14- year-old I gave a debut to against LNER at Whitchurch Lane back in 1998 now captaining the side. He (Gav Lebens) and Mark Landau have put an incredible amount into the club over the past few years, not just on the field but unstinting efforts off it too.
There is no reason why three or four matches a season could not be organised for the so-called cream of the Jewish crop. That way the players could carry on playing for their clubs as normal without the need for a so-called 'Super-club', which would improve their standard and also filter down to their clubs when they returned the following week as their skills would rub off on some of the other players.
MAL has been playing cricket for nigh on 50 years. From a selfish perspective, it would be very sad to lose everything that has been built up. Mel Corin's 13,000 runs and 500 dismissals, Len Courts, Clive Geller and Barry Nathan all took more than 300 wickets. All out for 26 and yet only losing by two wickets.
It's all in the history book and that book is continuing to be written. It is sadly a case of survival of the fittest, but one super-club could mean the end for the few clubs still surviving.