City Cup highlights hidden talent
The match may not gain much coverage and the rewards for success may be modest, but a quietly significant game takes place at Aston Manor Cricket Club in Birmingham on Sunday afternoon.
In it, a team from Birmingham will meet a team from Luton. Each one of the players will be aged under 22 and each of them will come from an inner-city community that might, without this competition, have not enjoyed the opportunity to play organised cricket.
The competition is the final of the City Cup. The tournament was devised by Scyld Berry, the cricket correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph and formerly the editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, who was concerned that the England team no longer provided a true reflection of the nation it is meant to represent.
In particular, Berry highlighted the dominance of players who learned their game either at private schools, in South Africa or even in South African private schools. Combined with the lack of cricket on free-to-view television, Berry felt there was a danger that cricket was becoming an irrelevance to large parts of the country and that there was no obvious route into professional cricket for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The City Cup has grown each year since its inception in 2009. Eight regions are now involved - London (south), London (north), Leicester, Luton, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Bradford. Two players from each of the eight teams will be selected to train at Lord's with Mark Alleyne, the MCC head coach, on September 28, while the following day at Wardown Park in Luton, there will be a game between MCC Young Cricketers and the City Cup players. In 2009, the City Cup XI beat a Middlesex XI half of which had played first-team cricket with the other half drawn from their academy.
Following that game, Alleyne will select as many of the City Cup players as he likes to become MCC Young Cricketers. He has selected a player in each of the last two years, one pace bowler, one spinner, both of south Asian origin.
The aim is to spread the competition to 16 inner-city areas and provide a pathway into professional cricket for those who had become somewhat disenfranchised from the mainstream game.
"A pathway to the top has been established for someone playing outside the traditional club and county structures like the ECB Premier Leagues," Berry explained. "Thousands play on poorly maintained council pitches without any chance of progressing. But now, turn up at the nets at the start of a season and you could be a professional cricketer within a year."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo