YORKSHIRE Premier League Cricket has been officially launched - with the Race to Abu Dhabi set to begin when the first ball is bowled on April 16.
Leading figures from the England & Wales Cricket Board, Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the Yorkshire Cricket Board attended a special dinner at York Cricket Club.
They joined officials of the four new-look premier leagues - Yorkshire League North, Yorkshire League South, North Yorkshire South Durham League and the Bradford League - plus representatives of competing clubs.
The York & District Senior, South Yorkshire, Halifax, Wetherby, Nidderdale and York Vale leagues, which will form the pyramids beneath the Premier Leagues, joined the celebration.
ECB chairman Colin Graves said: “The rest of the cricket community will be watching this exciting development. The people who have worked so hard to make this happen deserve the highest praise.”
Chairman Steve Denison - who headed a strong Yorkshire CCC delegation which included chief executive Mark Arthur, director of cricket Martyn Moxon, head coach Jason Gillespie and new coach Richard Pyrah - said: “Who would have thought this day would come? Brilliant leadership from Yorkshire CCC, Yorkshire Cricket Board and the leagues.”
Yorkshire fast bowler Matthew Fisher - whose club Sheriff Hutton Bridge will play in Yorkshire League North having been one of six teams promoted from the York & District Senior League - is excited by the new set-up, which will see the champions of the four premier leagues meet in end-of-season play-offs, with the final being played in Abu Dhabi on October 27.
“League cricket has been transformed,” he said. “The best playing the best is how it should be. We must be thankful to all that made it happen.”
It has taken more than two years to create the new league structure.
Yorkshire Premier League Cricket chairman Alan Birkinshaw said it was a proud moment for all involved.
“It has taken a tremendous amount of hard work and sacrifice. This is a special day for all who have made this possible. Yorkshire cricket is truly united.”
During the dinner, the draw for the play-off semi-finals was made by Graves and Gillespie. They drew the team names from the White Rose Trophy, which has been donated to Yorkshire Premier League Cricket by the officials of the now defunct under-21 competition.
The semi-final line-up will see Yorkshire League North take on Yorkshire League South at Scarborough, while the Bradford League will play North Yorkshire/South Durham at Headingley. Both will be played on Saturday, September 17, with Sunday, September 18 as a reserve day.
The winning teams will then travel to Abu Dhabi on October 22 for the final. During their stay, the two teams will each play a warm-up match against a local team before meeting in the day/night final in the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium.
During the launch dinner, the guests donated £1,150 to the Yorkshire Cricket Flood Appeal.