THE future of Borders cricket has changed forever, but is it for the better?
It was confirmed last week that Gala, Kelso, Selkirk, St Boswells and Hawick had accepted spots in the East of Scotland League from 2012.
While a 10-team Border League will continue to be played on a Sunday, it is likely to be diluted version, similar to the former reserve league with teams from Biggar, Gala, Hawick, Langholm, Kelso, Manderston, Melrose, Penicuik, St Boswells and Selkirk likely to be taking part.
It means the end of the 116-year-old Border League, one of Scottish cricket’s oldest, in its present format, with teams instead taking to the road to grounds across Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians on a summer Saturday afternoon.
Each Border club was admitted to a different division in the East League’s nine-tier set-up based on their 2011 league position, and unsurprisingly this prompted some strong views on how the changes will effect each individual club.
For reigning Border League champions St Boswells (Division 2) and Kelso (Division 4), who were the first to indicate their desire to leave after Langholm’s departure to play in Cumbria, they are happy with the move.
St Boswells secretary Richard Young told TheSouthern: “We are very excited about playing new teams and being in leagues with promotion and relegation.
“We see the travelling part of it as a bonus, when we were in the National Leagues in 2006, the best part was the team bonding on the bus and the stopping off at Edinburgh on the way home.
“We are delighted that the Border League remains, albeit in a different format, and are committed to always having a team playing in it.”
Kelso representative Trevor Bowring said: “It is the young players who have driven this move to the East League and they are looking forward to the chance to play competitive cricket with promotion and relegation.”
Initial reluctance at Gala to make the jump turned to an acceptance that they had no option but to accept their Division 3 placing.
And despite being popped into lowly Division 6, Selkirk seem relatively pleased with a chance for their young side to get some wins.
Captain John Everitt told last week’s league meeting: “There is a big gap between the top and bottom of the Border League and our young players struggle when we have to go to Kelso or Gala and lose 350 runs. I think the youngsters will be keener to play in a league with promotion and relegation.”
Despite an initial opposition to accept their East of Scotland Division 8 place, Hawick also have embraced the need for change. Club president Bruce Mactaggart said: “Due to three clubs intimating they wanted to leave the Border League the current format of the league was untenable.
“The implication is quite positive as we now see it as being an opportunity to get players to play for us on a Sunday when they are more likely to be available, as a lot played rugby on Saturdays and were therefore unavailable in previous years.”
“This will hopefully lead to more players playing cricket in Hawick and ought to strengthen the club.
“I am pleased a solution has been found because a great deal of youth development has been done in the town in the last five to six years and it would have been a pity to let that go to waste.”
But Colin Green of Melrose, a club which has chosen not to go to the East League and will solely play in the new Sunday League, fears the likes of Selkirk and Hawick could disappear if they did not perform well in their new surroundings. He told the meeting: “The top three teams will do OK in the East League, but if the others struggle they could get demoralised and fold. It has happened with Borders hockey clubs who went to the East League but then folded.”
And in a message to all departing clubs, Border League chairman Rory Murray, also of Melrose, said: “If it (moving to East League) does work, then great; promotion helps build confidence in teams.
“But your move is to the detriment of the Border League.”
A glimmer of light for the traditionalists is that the East League is known to be considering a regionalised format, so effectively the Border League would be resurrected, including the likes of Haddington, in a South Division which Melrose would also look to join. But that idea is not on the agenda for 2012 and is little consolation to those who opposed the changes.
Mactaggart added: “We are all to blame for the current situation (regarding the Border League). We have let the system down and it is up to us now to make it work.”
Borders community development manager Neil Cameron did not attend last week’s meeting, but has been keeping a close eye on the developments.
He told us: “I would like to stress that whilst there is some turmoil in the senior game the junior competitions will continue unaffected.
“Indeed, the junior club and representative game has never been stronger with all member clubs running junior sections and weekly attendances at junior practice nights reaching record levels in 2011.
“Cricket in the Borders continues to thrive; admittedly some clubs are struggling to maintain numbers, but all are actively working with me, Sports Development, and local schools to attract new members of all ages.”
Meanwhile, St Boswells Cricket Club are currently busy preparing for their annual New Year’s Day game which will go ahead as planned in any weather (snow) if required.