Fresh start for a new-look Premier

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LAST week, we took an in-depth look at the new Durham Cricket League – this week CHRIS WEST focuses on the revised North East Premier League model and the ambitious plans for junior cricket in the region.

For the 13 cricket seasons since its formation at the end of the 20th century, the North East Premier League has been somewhat of an exclusive organisation, with just 11 clubs, plus the Durham Academy being in membership at any one time.

But following the collapse of the old North East pyramid structure, which acted as the previous feeder system for ambitious clubs to try to reach the pinnacle of club cricket, the NEPL have now expanded and restructured their competition, and in time the new Durham Cricket League (DCL) will also link in to them via promotion and relegation, something that will then provide a four division structure that will allow the opportunity for everyone to progress.

A careful criteria led application process was followed to admit ten new member clubs to the NEPL, and they will debut in 2013 in the newly-formed First Division, the existing top flight having been rebranded as the Premier Division.

The 10 trailblazers are Boldon, Eppleton, Felling, South Hetton and Whitburn from the Durham Senior League, Seaham Harbour and Washington from the Coast League, Willington and Brandon from the County League and Sacriston from the Northumberland and Tyneside Senior League (NTSL).

The Senior, County and Coast leagues have now all been wound up, while the NTSL have filled the vacancy left by Sacriston’s departure by accepting Northumberland League champions Alnmouth and Lesbury into membership.

During the long debates about the restructuring, the NTSL opted to stay outside the new structure, although NEPL chairman Keith Robson confirmed that the door would always be open for further talks.

Over the next two or three years, the initial 10 who have taken the immediate plunge will be joined by two more clubs who will be promoted from the DCL, and by 2016, it should be the case that the four divisions of the NEPL and DCL will consist of 12 teams each, and there will then be a fluent promotion and relegation system of one up and one down operating throughout.

While the newly-named Premier Division will continue with the longer format 120-over game, the new member clubs in the First Division will be playing 105 over win/draw/lose cricket, with matches starting at 1pm and the team taking first knock allowed a maximum of 55 overs.

The labyrinthine points system mirrors that used in the top flight and is sure to keep players, scorers and supporters on their toes until they get used to their new surroundings.

There will be promotion and relegation between the Premier and First Division in 2013, although the lower level champions will have the ability to opt out of elevation in this first season if they so wish.

In the unlikely event that that happens, there is a mechanism in place to go down to the second and third teams to find a promotion candidate.

Robson was naturally enthusiastic about the new look structure and developments, telling the Echo: “We’re all really looking forward to the new season and welcoming our ten new clubs.

“It’s been a long road to this point but now, after many meetings and a lot of hard work, everything is in position and we are confident that what we have put in place will work well for both ourselves and club cricket in general.”

With several senior competitions in the region significantly overhauled, the junior teams linked to those leagues also face a totally new challenge, with the Durham Cricket Board taking over the running of their cricket.

Previously the County, Coast and Senior leagues ran junior competitions under their own individual banners, with the junior teams of several NEPL sides also competing in the former Senior League structure.

All the junior sides from those three league set-ups are now to become members of the new Durham Cricket Board Junior League, which will be geographically zoned into four separate divisions – North East, South East, South West and Central.

While the finer points still have to be rubber-stamped at a meeting on Monday night, it is anticipated that the Under-18 age group games will be played on Tuesdays, the Under-15s on Mondays, the Under-13s on Wednesdays and the Under-11s on Sunday morning.

It is expected that the season will start with all four divisions holding their own cup competitions, before moving on to the regular league games where each team plays each other once.

At the end of the regular league matches, it is then hoped the four divisions will split, with further matches taking place between sides of similar ability.

It is also an exciting possibility that a “champions league” will be played between the top teams from the four new divisions, plus the leading Durham sides from the NTSL and NYACC junior competitions, something that would result in a coveted “County Champions” crown at the end of the campaign for teams at various age group levels.