By Richard Edwards
27th April 2022
Few clubs are in as fortunate financial position as Bath. By the same token, even fewer use their resources to benefit the community and the world of cricket at large, as shrewdly as the West Country Premier League side.
Last year’s ECB Cup winners – they defeated Nottingham’s Sandiacre Cricket Club by 81 runs in the final at Wormsley back in September – are fortunate to be situated on the site of a car park which brings the club in between £400,000 and £500,000 on an annual basis. A recent sale of land has also netted them the best part of £2m. They are, according to Matt Hankins, the club’s chairman, perhaps the second richest club in the country.
Unlike a number of clubs who spend large sums on their playing budget, though, Bath don’t pay their players a single penny. Instead, they invest heavily in their coaching team, in their grounds, and in ensuring that Bath’s biggest club doesn’t become Bath’s only club.
“We could spend £100,000 on players - and if we did that, I would expect to win every game,” says Hankins. “But that would be a lazy decision for the club to make – that would be an irresponsible way of spending our money.
“We invest heavily in facilities and our coaches. We’ve got a player who would be one of the marquee players in the Premier League and has always been paid in the past. He has played for Bath for two seasons now - and he has said that he wished he had played for us for a whole lot longer.”
Hankins – himself a part-time volunteer rather than a full-time member of staff at North Parade – comes with an impressive cricket pedigree, with his sons, George and Harry on the Gloucestershire staff until last September.
They’re just two of the players to come through the set-up of a club which is perhaps as close to professional as any other team in the country.
“We pretty much spend everything that we generate – our challenges are more off the pitch than on it, which is a role reversal in comparison to most clubs,” he says. “We set ourselves a set of ambitions in relation to the club and the community and we want to deliver that.
“But that comes at a cost. We have to employ people to deliver the growth of all our out-reach programmes. Our challenge is ensuring that our business measures up to our cricket ambitions and our vision for the next five years.
“My fear, my worry, about the game at large, is that we end up being the only club in Bath. Do we end up playing ourselves? We’re very conscious of that fact, so we try to support other clubs where we can.”
The large pool of young playing talent which Bath nurtures is just one example of the role they’re playing in bringing through players for the future, not just at their own club, but for clubs in the local area.
It’s not just the future of the club itself, which taxes Hankins, it’s what lies in store for club cricket for the coming years, and its ongoing battle to stay relevant for the next generation of players.
“Every club is set up differently, but we’re probably viewed as being at the pinnacle of the red ball league,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that we’ll eventually move towards a shorter format. I’m a big advocate of playing in coloured clothing because clubs have to do all they can to make the sport attractive and relevant for young kids.
“There are no plans to integrate the Hundred as a format into our schedule here, but last year there was an abundance of Hundred shirts and I think that it’s sending the right message to the younger generation - I think we’ll have to follow suit at some point.
“I think within the next 10 years, we’ll be playing in coloured clothing and playing a shorter format of the game. There’s so much more for people to do, and I don’t see the same level of commitment in the next generation. I believe they’ll be wanting to play a shorter format of the game.
“I’m very much for securing the game for the future. I think there’s too much of the game stuck in the past.”
That will send shudders down the spine of some, and generate excitement in others. As the past three years have showed, though, the only thing that’s really certain is uncertainty. So, what about really shaking up the sport, and introducing an FA Cup-type competition for the top clubs and counties?
“I’m not sure how that would pan out, but I would be interested in that,” he says.
“For some of the bigger clubs, the clubs that are in the top two of their leagues, to have the ability to go and challenge themselves against a pro-team, that would be an attraction for our club.
“We’ve got a great affiliation and hunger to play in national competitions. We’ve had some women’s international games at our ground, West Indies and Pakistan trained at our ground during the last World Cup and in pre-season we’ve played Gloucestershire, Ireland and Scotland in days gone-by.
“The chance for clubs to go and play at a county ground would appeal to a lot of the best players in club cricket. I think that would be exciting. That’s exactly the kind of thing we have to look at. For this sport to survive and grow, we have to think about doing things differently.”