Devon’s top ten cricket teams have voted to play straight win-or-lose cricket next season for the first time in the history of the Devon League, writes Conrad Sutcliffe.

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Since the league was formed in 1972, clubs have played a format of the game that allows for a draw if the side batting second can’t win the match but avoid being bowled out.

The format was designed to replicate the sort of cricket played for more than 100 years in Devon before the advent of league cricket – and was encouraged by the England and Wales Cricket Board right up until last year.

The ECB paid leagues a cash bonus to distribute between clubs for sticking with old-fashioned ‘draw’ cricket.

The reason was to replicate in miniature the skills needs to win matches at Minor Counties level and higher, where teams have to bowl the opposition out to win matches.

A win-lose experiment was trialled in the Birmingham League Premier section last season with ECB’s blessing, and proved a success.

Devon League Premier Division clubs have been hankering to ditch ‘draw cricket’ for many years and for 2012 only they have their wish on a trial basis. In come 10-over limits per bowler, powerplays, fielding circles and net run rate to decide the winner in rain-affected games.

The Duckworth-Lewis formula had no takers. Initially, only Premier Division clubs are switching to win-lose cricket – and they will have to vote next year to retain or return to draw games.

In his preamble before discussion and voting took place, league chairman Joe Clowes said clubs would be deciding on the, ‘most significant’ change to the way games are played in the history of the league’. Significant it may have been, but there was very little support for retaining winning-draw cricket when the time came to vote.

Only Torquay and Exeter, who won’t be affected next season as they are an A Division club, expressed serious reservations about the switch. Exeter’s Bruce Coleman said without the incentive to bat for a draw when there was no chance of winning, matches could become meaningless. “If you are batting second and lose early wickets there is no point making the effort and the game could be over in 20 overs,” warned Coleman.

Torquay, who are back in the Premier this summer after an absence of two years, also spoke against the motion. Skipper Justin Yau said the best game Torquay played in on their way to winning the A Division title was a draw at Braunton. “It was a fantastic game of cricket that kept everyone gripped right to the end,”said Yau.

However, representatives from Sidmouth, Heathcoat, Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton all spoke in favour and carried the day by a 7-3 margin. Only Premier clubs voted, at the request of the management committee.

Curiously, when Topsham and Kenn teamed up to ask for shorter games in the D and E Division 2nd XI competitions, there was overwhelming opposition to them going it alone in 40 over games.

A succession of clubs – Chagford, Lewdown, Chelston, Torquay, Dartington, Seaton and Whitchurch all lobbied against.

Only five of the 60-odd clubs there voted in favour and the motion was lost. Most off the other motions passed on the night were tidying up measures dealing with registrations or the awarding of points.

Two of the more significant changes related to the points split in drawn games – still applicable outside the top flight – and restrictions on overseas players.

To qualify for two draw points a side batting second has to reach two-thirds of the target needed to win. In future the side batting first will get eight points rather than six if they keep the chasing team below the benchmark figure. League bosses also moved to close a loophole which allows players with EU passports but born outside the Union to bypass the current rules of one overseas player per club. ”Last season we had Hungarians, Poles and all sorts playing, who were nothing more than Australians or New Zealanders whose grandfathers had emigrated, and that is not healthy for cricket.” The clubs overwhelmingly agreed, voting 55-2 in favour of closing the loophole.

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