DEVON CCC's outgoing director of cricket would like to see the gap between the professional and recreational games narrowed for the good of the sport.
Keith Donohue, who played more than 140 games for Devon in all competitions between 1985-2000, has just retired as director of cricket after six summers in the job.
Although Donohue’s job with the Minor County was voluntary, not paid, it carried a large degree of responsibility that extended from playing matters to representing Devon on outside bodies, such as the county cricket board.
Donohue has felt for some time there is a growing disconnect between the First Class game and Minor County cricket, which is largely populated by amateur cricketers, but with a sprinkling of professionals around the counties.
He has no gripe with Somerset, with whom Devon, Cornwall and Dorset all have good working relationships, but with the governors of the game at Lord’s.
“Too many of them are dismissive of the amateur game and what counties like ours and players are trying to achieve,” said Donohue. “There needs to be more coming together between the pro and amateur games.
“Our interaction with Somerset is better now than it has ever been and the issue is not with the counties but the administrators who think the game below professional level has little relevance.
“What puzzles me is where all the young and talented players go if they don’t make it with one of the professional counties?
“If you look around the local football scene you see players who have been attached to the professional game who don’t make it find a level to play at.
“Yet so many young players released by counties simply stop playing. They need to be encouraged to stay in the game, which would be good for the sport in general.
“Stronger leagues would produce better players and encourage the best amateur players to strive harder to stay at the top of the game.”
Donohue’s six years in charge of Devon were a real roller coaster on the playing side. There was success in both forms of one-day cricket, but little to celebrate in the three-day game.
Devon’s best year under Donohue was 2014, when the county won the 50-over Unicorns Trophy and finished third in the Western Division table.The annus horribilis was 2015, when Devon were winless wooden spoonists in three-day cricket.
“I think most of our opponents would agree we are a consistently good one-day side in 20 and 50-over cricket,” said Donohue.
“We have been to both Unicorns finals days so far in T20 cricket and reached two finals in 50-over cricket as well as reaching the last eight or last four almost every season.
“There have been times in three-day cricket when we have looked a formidable side, but it is hard to be like that consistently if you can’t keep your fast bowlers fit, an area we have struggled with.”
Picking a highlight from six three-day Minor Counties championship campaigns is not easy, although Devon’s 2016 win over Cornwall at Sidmouth would be a contender.
The game was over inside two days, largely but not entirely due to a staring performance with bat and ball by Zak Bess.
Bess slammed an unbeaten 166 either side of lunch, the roared in to take five wickets for 35 runs as Cornwall collapsed. Devon went on to win by 10 wickets.
Said Donohue: Two, maybe three years ago, when he was at his hottest, Zak was as good an amateur player as I had ever seen.
“I think it was unfortunate for him he suffered an injury at the wrong time, just when counties were showing an interest in him.”
Donohue could do little or nothing to influence games once the players walked over the boundary rope, but that was no barrier to close working relationships with Matt Thompson and Josh Bess, who led the side for most of his time as director of cricket.
“Two different cricketers, but both fantastic captains and leaders in their own way,” said Donohue.
After six years in the hot seat, Donohue is looking forward to a break from the game.
“I have another grandchild on the way, which is bound to keep me busy, but I expect I will find some time to watch a bit of cricket here and there,” he said.