Shake up for local cricket Leagues
Monday 15th December 2014 @ 13:53 by Mark Phillip

A startling revelation by the Lancashire Cricket Board last month exposed the dwindling numbers associated with club participation across the country.

The worrying statistics which emerged from the survey indicated a seven percent decrease in the sport overall, with the total number of players competing in cricket teams down from 908,000 in 2013 to 844,000 in 2014.

Despite the rise of Women’s cricket across the globe in general, predominantly down to the rise of international competition, the worrying trend with club participation remains the same and is a real cause for concern.

Males represented 93 per cent of the participation base with females representing seven per cent. 30 per cent of grass roots cricketers are drawn from ethnic minorities and 53 per cent of cricketers would like to play the game more often.

So, with club participation on a downward spiral and interest in the sport declining each summer, what are the proposed plans to stop the rot which will hopefully replenish cricket with healthy participant numbers again?

Well, the LCB openly stated in a letter earlier this month that they have a responsibility to protect the game and act as guardians of the sport.

Taking inspiration from the Leicestershire Cricket Boards new league model, the league officials asked the question: “Is there a better way that we can operate to allow us to raise standards, protect the game and give players, clubs and officials the chance to develop and grow within a new structured system for cricket?”

The answer; yes. But at what costs for our local clubs?

More than ten teams throughout Tameside compete regularly every Summer in their own respected leagues and the proposed changes to league formation could potentially see a structure implemented that amalgamates the separate leagues into a Greater Manchester league.

I was joined by Quest Media Chairman Martin Frost and the Tameside Reporter’s Matt Hewitt last week to discuss the impact the proposed changes could have and why there is a need to address the issues of decreasing participation.

Martin has been an avid cricket fan since he was a child and competed at a decent level himself for over 20 years.

The sport has changed dramatically over 30 years and according to him, it’s partly down to different values people have.

He said “There are so many different social activities currently available and people have different values now.”

Matt echoed martin’s sentiments and reiterated the issue of time consumption that the sport engulfs.

He added “Cricket generally takes up a large chunk of time and you can see yourself giving up an evening for training, playing during the week and also playing at the weekend.

“When you consider the proportion of time consumed by the sport it can make life really tricky.”

Another factor that may have contributed to falling participation rates is the exploitation of celebrity status and the lack of accessibility the majority of players offer.

Matt contextualised this issue and revisited a period of his youth that triggered his love for the sport.

He said “Cricketers used to be accessible but they aren’t anymore and they’re certainly not committed to playing for one county for life.

“You’ll often see someone playing for Lancashire and then they’ll move to Birmingham Bears and so on.

“A hero of mine when I was younger was David Gower, and he would stay after the game and have a chat with you, sign autographs and so on.”

The rise in celebrity status has accompanied the multi-million pound tournaments regularly held across the world.

The Australian Big Bash and the Indian Premier League have become attractive propositions for the games best players, with Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff testament to this statement.

Martin supported the idea to a certain degree and stated “Some people are just born to the role of serial self-publicist but they are still supremely good cricketers.

“Cricketers moving from country to country have had a fundamental impact on the Central Lancashire League and certain players aren’t available because they are just playing 20/20 cricket all year round.”

Martin’s comments resonate with a number of clubs across the borough where they can have great difficulty in recruiting an over sea’s player with a proven track record.

Matt said “We had an overseas player in Matt Hannah (at Hyde) and he had a huge effect on the club in general!

“He spent a considerable amount of time with the juniors and placed great emphasis on coaching them.

“Sometimes you can be lucky (with recruiting players), other times you can be unlucky, but whoever you acquire needs to buy into the clubs ethos!”

The argument to adjust the league structure will essentially allow the weaker clubs to regroup at a lower level and then work their way back up through the cricket hierarchy.

There are certainly pro’s and con’s associated with the changes, but no final decision will be taken by Ashton in particular until a thorough discussion and analysis has taken place.

Martin said “It’s important to be open minded with regards to the changes and I think it depends on the fine details of any proposals that come out.

“Ashton have taken the view that they want to be open with discussions before a final decision is taken.”

The costs of equipping a player throughout the summer campaign is fairly substantial, with whites, helmets, bats and gloves all making a nasty dent in the bank account.

But the outlay of the sport is an aspect that both Matt and Martin consider a serious deterrent for youth participation – not that their respected clubs have succumbed to the financial constraints.

Martin said “it’s absolutely vital that you make it available to youngsters and hopefully plant the seed for a lifelong investment in the sport.”

Matt added “We want people to come and play cricket so we will find you kit!”