Time to change Eastern Counties, says Smith
Three weeks after winning back the Eastern Counties Cup, St David's coach Wendell Smith is calling for a change in the 70-48 overs format that will give his team an unfair advantage when they begin the defence of their title next year.
Smith is also eager to see the controversy surrounding Lionel Cann resolved before next year's series at Sea Breeze Oval.
Cann has fallen out of favour with the club following comments he made to The Royal Gazette in September 2011 regarding some of his St David's team-mates smoking marijuana in the changing room during a match.
Cann stopped playing after the incident, moved to Warwick the following season to take on a player-coach role and hasn't played in the Eastern Counties for his home team since, though there was talk the club were prepared to invite him back for this year's game against Bailey's Bay.
“I hope the Lionel Cann situation gets sorted out so we can all move forward harmoniously together,” said Smith who feels Cann still has something to offer in the Eastern Counties even at the age of 40.
Smith was also forthcoming on his views regarding the format which limits the team batting first to 70 overs, a format developed years ago to prevent the champions from batting the majority of the day and giving the challengers less time to chase their target.
Responding to comments yesterday from Eastern Counties president Stephen Douglas, Smith still thinks the format, which allows the holders to ‘settle' for a draw, is unfair to teams like Flatts and Cleveland who haven't won the cup is more than 20 years. Cleveland briefly held the cup in 2010 when St. David's boycotted the competition.
Last year at Sea Breeze Oval, Flatts scored 294 before the then champions Bailey's Bay, 81 for four at one stage, played out for a draw and finished with 238 for six after captain Stephen Outerbridge and Rodney Trott put on 127 for the fifth wicket.
“Although we're the champions now I would still say it gives us an unfair advantage,” said Smith who played for St David's in the counties. “When we were not cup holders I did not favour the system and now that we're the champions I think it gives more credence to it if I speak out now because it will show that it wasn't sour grapes.
“Even now that we're the cup holders I feel the system gives an unfair advantage to the cup holders because if they win the toss they can always bat from behind and, because it is an overs game, they can still play for a draw. Most overs matches around the world, if you bat last and don't get the total then you lose, but in this case you can bat last and it doesn't matter if you get the total of the other team.
“Stephen Outerbridge and Rodney batted out against Flatts and they batted out against Cleveland (last year), but Stephen is a bright guy, he realised to play from behind was to his advantage and if they got in trouble they can just poke it out and play for a draw. It makes the last hour of the game extremely boring, but spectators need to understand that he was taking advantage of the rules, and rightly so.”
With St David's hosting the champions at home in the second round, they had the advantage of preparing a wicket to suit them which, Smith admitted, meant leaving extra grass on the wicket. In the end Bay were dismissed for just 89 in 40.1 — just over two runs an over.
Bay will have that advantage when they play in next year's second round, but it is a luxury that Cleveland and Flatts don't have.
“I'm surprised that teams like Flatts and Cleveland haven't changed the system because it is going to make it that much more difficult for them to win the trophy,” said Smith.
“Next year if they win the toss they will send us in because they will most likely want to play from behind, but we get 70 overs to bat and they get 48. With 22 extra overs most teams are going to find it very hard to bat good enough to find their total equal to that of a team that batted 22 overs more than them, unless you have a very good bowling attack and can bowl some economical overs like we did against Bailey's Bay.
“In the first 20 overs they had 42 runs so we looked at it like they were batting 50 overs and we would bat 48. That was a tactical thing that we did, bowl our two most economical bowlers, George O'Brien and Del Hollis, in the first 20 overs. We had to wipe out the disproportionate amount of overs but I told the guys I still wanted them to get wickets rather than just bowl economical.”
Added Smith: “Before County Cup we worked really hard on a couple of things I hadn't done before, even with the St George's team, and that was walking in extremely fast from their fielding position when the bowler came in to bowl. I told them we were going to look for run-outs and the first wicket we got was a run-out.
“You have to come up with all these tactical things to overcome a system that is not favouring the challengers.”
Smith believed that a 60-overs match would create more excitement with results in every match. Even a 60-60 format with the possibility of the team batting second holding out for a draw is a better alternative to what exists now, he said.
“It appears that prior Eastern Counties committees liked the idea of open cricket format and tried to stop one team from batting on and on past 70 overs,” said Smith.
‘“I remember once at Bailey's Bay, we batted so long into the afternoon that Bailey's Bay talked about not even coming out to bat. We left them something like two hours to make about 300 runs.”