London Maccabi Vale captain Neil Lederman shares his thoughts on why a proposed merger between the top Jewish cricket teams in the capital could work
LMV are, for the first time since the second inception of the Middlesex Sunday League, playing what could be considered a decent standard of Sunday cricket. Not great by any means, just decent. We are now but one win away from promotion and playing in the fourth division next year which will be another massive step forward for the club.
There are three challenges that plague Jewish cricket, depending on your age, ability and ambitions these challenges will be of very different priority to each individual, standard, numbers and interest.
Personally, playing 1st and 2nd team cricket on a Saturday, if we weren't playing in Chess Valley, winning games and pushing for promotion, then there would be nothing in it for me. This is my third season as captain and I took it on under the intention of getting the 1st XI back to a position of strength where we were able to attract young, Jewish cricketers that weren't previously playing Jewish cricket, who equally share my ambition to see this club playing in the top two divisions on the league and being competitive every season. This, in turn, would mean that three years down the line, we'd have a strong squad of young guys - with maybe a couple of older heads - to send to the Maccabiah and bring back GB's first gold; of the 11 that beat North Mymms on Sunday, nine have represented GB either at Junior or Senior level at the Maccabiah.
You can see from the people we now have playing for us that entering the CVL was the best decision the club has ever made; we have gained some very strong cricketers from entering this league and through it we hope to each year be more attractive to those that don't, not only from inside Jewish cricket but from outside it also.
Therein lies the second challenge - numbers. This is a double edged sword; if you're ambitious and want to play for the strongest team then the only choice inside Jewish cricket is Vale. This is shown by a number of recent acquisions we have made, but in turn this has resulted in not only weakening other teams to the extent that they are now not exclusively Jewish clubs, but also means that some regular first team players over the past couple of seasons are no longer part of the strongest 11.
We have only once this season managed to get out two teams and when we did, it had nine players and got thumped; there is no way that this can be good for Jewish cricket on the whole. This past weekend we had 14 players that are good enough to play Sunday 1st XI cricket available, which unfortunately meant that three missed out on a game. One, large, merged club would mean that situation would result in them being able to play for a second team and playing for their position. I believe competition for places only ever results in bringing the best out of people, especially when they are trying to make a point.
One large Jewish club would have put out three teams this coming Sunday rather than, to my knowledge, the three current larger clubs managing to only put out two between them. This really is a case of the total is greater than the sum of their parts, every week that their is a single Jewish cricket missing out on a game due to lack any club being unable to put out enough teams is an opportunity missed. If it's a colt then they will play for a non-Jewish club that can offer them weekly games and if it's an older member then, as we have recently experienced at an alarming rate, they will stop playing.
As a collective we all have the same goal, that's simply to get as many Jewish cricketers playing on a Sunday as is possible, forget about quality for a second, that is what everyone wants, every week when someone misses out because there weren't enough players to fulfil a fixture is a missed opportunity and can only do damage.
I completely understand the argument that some people just want to play a friendly game of cricket with their friends; I'd argue, firstly no-one likes losing or seeing club after club go by the wayside.
Secondly, that a total merger wouldn't be the end of this; of course the 1st XI would still be there for the strongest cricketers, but the hope would be that there would be 3, 4 or 5 left over every week that had ambitions playing for the 1sts. Therefore they could form the basis of the 2nds and then there rest of the teams could be balanced so that those that wanted to play competitive cricket still can whilst those that aren't worried about the standard but want to play with their friends can still do that.
There is an assumption that a 'selection committee' wouldn't be formed of people that have the best interests of everyone in mind. As I said before, our main aim is to get as many Jewish cricketers playing every Sunday - the standard and sending a strong squad to the Maccabiah is second. We wouldn't lose anyone from a merger, but we might certainly gain a few lost names that perhaps feel they aren't of firsts standard any longer but were disillusioned with the rarity at which they would be guaranteed playing at a 2nd XI or lower standard.
Interest is a difficult one as loyalty isn't what it used to be - you used to see a lot of very good cricketers playing Premier League cricket on Saturdays and for a Jewish club on a Sunday. To this I simply say, how can pooling our resources, especially at a colts level, be a bad thing?
There have been too many that have come through Vale's colts system, moved on to another club with the promise of playing every week, playing a couple games in the season and then never playing again. It's a complete waste of some very good talent due to unhealthy and unwarranted completion.
One final thought, which struck me upon reading Neil Myroff's comments. There was not one cricket related-reason not to merge. There was no thought of the future, just of those playing and an assumption that they all wanted to play cricket just to play with friends. Neil himself was a very good cricketer. If he was 25, what would he do? Would he still be playing for MAL (or Belmont as he did)? I very much doubt it; he would either play his Sunday cricket for a non-Jewish club or play for Vale so that he could play the best possible standard available to him. It was a comment based on where he stands now rather than where he would have stood in his prime. We must cater for all ages and standards, a single club is actually able to do that better than several smaller clubs.
There are some that would rather be a big fish in a small pond and play below their potential. For the rest of us the enjoyment comes from the challenge, from playing with friends yes, but people that push us to get better and learn about the sport.
A club is only ever as strong as its top team that works at any level for any sport, from international level down to under-9s. A strong set up, pooled resources and a clear progression plan for a single club, at Rowley Lane (and it must be on the record that no one is stating it would go under the name of Vale) is the only way to keep Jewish cricket alive and strengthen it, so that there is not a single Jewish cricketer, no matter what the standard, that is without a game on a Sunday.
Compromises will obviously be needed, but I for one am willing to make them. I hope that others will do the same before it's too late ...
Email your thoughts on the great merger debate to firstname.lastname@example.org.