Cricket's gravy train has long left town

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 07:10 21/02/2013

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OPINION: There is no doubt the modern world of professional sport offers young players opportunities to become successful at an occupation they love.

It must almost seem like a dream come true, living in such an environment with worldwide travel, being viewed and discussed by the media and the public, and of course being paid for their troubles. Who wouldn't want to be a professional sportsman?

The naming of a New Zealand Invitation XI to play a four-day warmup game against England next week threw up some interesting selections. Only one player from the Plunket Shield- leading Central Districts side made it, and a third of the squad was born overseas.

I was hit by a tinge of sadness that the local first-class sides no longer have the opportunity to pit their talents against overseas opposition.

Television gorges itself on an international programme of Twenty20, one-day and test matches, and the small fry are exactly that - insignificant and forgotten.

If you are not one of the best 20-odd cricketers in the country, forget it.

You are not going to get the opportunity to rub shoulders with Alistair Cook and his buddies.

As a cricketer of mere mortal proportions, I carry some great memories of playing for Central Districts against touring sides from Pakistan, England and Australia.

It's not just the stories that can be related - like facing Bob Willis and bowling an expensive over to Ian Botham - but the opportunity to mix with the likes of Mushtaq Mohammed, Mike Gatting, as well as tossing a coin with Ian Chappell.

Playing a one-day match against Australia on Pukekura Park (the best ground in the world), with opposition including Greg Chappell, Doug Walters and Max Walker, and losing in the last over of the match when they were nine wickets down, is a memory that is being taken away from most of our first class cricketers, as well as an enthusiastic rural public.

I easily remember a packed ground, a vociferous beer tent, Ali Jordan winning man of the match.

But most of all, going back to school the next day at Avon in Stratford where the kids had baked a cake and made a congratulatory cut-out figure.

Wow, surely this is a special aspect of sport that is now lost from the game.

Also, the advent of professionalism does appear to be taking its toll on the exuberance and enjoyment at provincial level. Acceptable personal statistics now outweigh victories in some cases.

No doubt the same philosophy is applied at first class level where a player's livelihood and future career depends on them being personally successful, rather than being a key ingredient in the right "mix".

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Maybe statistics listed beside a player in a media report should also include the number of wins the team has had and the "assists" that the player has contributed.

This just might free up that player to consider the team first as he plans his approach.

Life continues to race forward and no one can afford to look back.

It is all about making the most of the opportunities that present themselves right now.

While New Zealand Cricket's priority might be collecting television revenue from international matches, maybe, just maybe, it could consider another touring team playing Central Districts at Pukekura Park.

I'm sure the locals will provide a bumper crowd while the players will treasure such an occasion.

Ian Snook is a former Taranaki and Central Districts captain.

He is one of only four men to have played more than 100 games for Taranaki.

- Taranaki Daily News

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