Herefordshire are overcoming handicaps of geography and demographics to be competitive in this season’s National Counties Trophy.
Herefordshire’s population of 193,000 is the lowest of the 20 National Counties with more than a quarter of those living Hereford which has only cricket club – Marches League side Herefordians – within the city boundaries.
There are only 20 more clubs within a mostly rural county, none of whom play in the Birmingham & District Premier League which is the major competition in the area and only three – Bromyard, Colwall and Brockhampton - in the Worcestershire County League.
There are compensations as Herefordshire’s three home venues – Brockhampton, Colwall and Eastnor – are all picturesque but there is only a small pool of homegrown talent available to the county’s head coach Richard Skyrme..
Despite those obvious difficulties, Herefordshire began their season with a victory over Devon in the National Counties Trophy, were edged out by Cornwall at Eastnor last Sunday and have a young and enthusiastic side under the captaincy of former Worcestershire opening batsman Matt Pardoe.
Herefordshire have been helped by having special dispensation from the that requires National Counties to select eight ‘homegrown’ players and the ability to select players from Worcestershire clubs who are all automatically affiliated to Herefordshire.
A thriving partnership with Worcestershire is also proving to be mutually beneficial with Jack Haynes – a heavy-scorer in the LV= County Championship this season – and wicketkeeper Alex Milton having gained valuable experience with Herefordshire in recent seasons.
Zain ul Hasaan, a product of Worcestershire’s academy, made his debut for Herefordshire against Cornwall last week and David Banks, the former Worcestershire and Warwickshire batsman who coaches Worcestershire’s age group teams, is now assisting Skyrme with Herefordshire’s coaching.
“Without the special dispensation it would be impossible for us to select eight players born and bred in Herefordshire,” Skyrme said.
“We have 21 clubs in the whole of the county, we have no-one in the Birmingham League and only three in the Worcestershire County League which is the highest standard for a Herefordshire club.
“But the regulations say that if a Worcestershire club is affiliated to Herefordshire – which they all are now - then their players are available which has helped us enormously.
“As much as we try to play local born and bred players, the majority have to come from Worcestershire clubs.
“Halesowen, Kidderminster Victoria, Ombersley and Barnards Green are the clubs that they mostly come from.
“We have very good relationship with Worcestershire. I get on well with Elliot Wilson who runs their Academy and I have known Kevin Sharp for 35 years which helps.
“I couldn’t ask for a better first-class county to be linked with.”
Skyrme also keeps his eye on cricket south of Herefordshire’s borders with leg-spinner Alex Russell, a product of Gloucestershire’s Academy, a regular in Herefordshire’s side since he made his debut in 2018.
“Alex has been with us since he walked into an indoor session at Malvern as a 15-year-old and introduced himself and asked if he could have bowl and we gave him as debut at 16,” Skyrme said.
“We have a good relationship with Tim Hancock at Gloucestershire and we talk regularly about the best cricket for Alex to be playing in.”
Skyrme, who is Hereford born and bred, played for Herefordshire in their first-ever Minor Counties Championship match against Wales at Brockhampton in 1992 and appeared in 64 competitive matches for the county, including NatWest Trophy matches against Durham and Somerset.
Passing on that experience and his obvious passion for Herefordshire cricket to the next generation is what gives Skyrme job satisfaction in his current role.
“We’ve made a decision as a county club that we are going to try and keep it young. If we can sit at New Road or Bristol in a year or two’s time and watch a player that has come through with us then that is our part to play,” he said.
“Zain ul Hassan is a fine young player. I am excited by his talent and if he can score runs or take wickets for us and he can progress with Worcestershire then we will be delighted.
“Jack Haynes had a game for us against Berkshire two years ago and now he’s in Worcestershire’s first team squad.
“We don’t want to go down the road of paying players because we don’t think that’s the way forward.”