Cricket is not the easiest of sports to get into as a beginner.
For a start the skills required are unique to the sport, and certainly unusual to a youngster who has spent his first few sporting years either kicking a football or passing a rugby ball.
Then there’s the equipment: cricket whites, pads, gloves, bats, thigh pads – the list goes on. It needs to be stored at home and lugged about from match to match. It has always amused me that a cricketer’s kit bag is called a coffin.
It’s dangerous too. The idea of standing 20 metres away and allowing someone with a rock hard ball to throw it at your body when you are armed only with a piece of wood to hit it can be quite an alarming one to somebody just giving the game a go.
And of course, there are the rules. The crazy rules – players being in and out, leg before wicket, caught at silly mid-on – and that’s even before we get anywhere near overthrows and Super Overs that hit the headlines when England won the cricket World Cup last year.
It also takes a hell of a long time to play too. Even with today’s 20 over matches, the shortest game is only ever going to be three hours long. That’s double the length of a professional football match.
Cricket, however, is the best sport of all. In this writer’s opinion anyway. And possibly because of the reasons given above, rather than in spite of them. In short, cricket is worth it.
It is also a sport that Sportside knows it is able to assist in so many ways: from helping players find a club, helping clubs find a player, giving personal cricket coaches a platform to work from – and clubs a modernised and easy-to-use management platform.
The sport, though, is in grave danger of losing a legion of future players as the club game continues to be delayed in England.
Net sessions began at clubs up and down the country a few weeks ago and the reassuring sound of balls being thwacked around village greens was back – but still club cricket matches have not had the green light to proceed.
It has been a galling experience for those running the game at junior levels, particularly as they see so many other sports – far less socially distant in their activity – returning to the playing fields of this country.
Liam Tebb, who helps run the junior sides at my local club in Twickenham, said: “There’s a great possibility that cricket will suffer in years to come because of this.”
“There’s a few key stages of development, from the age of 5 when kids start with the excellent All Stars programme, Under 10s is then key and then Under 14s too.
“Usually cricket starts because parents, siblings or grandparents are interested and kids pick up the bug but with no live cricket on TV [until July 8] or plans to play cricket until late summer, that desire can wane.
“Under 10s is when the kids start cricket with a hardball and many 9 and 10 year olds could well be slipping away this summer. Players then grow physically and mentally and that Under 14 age group is a key moment to keeping them keen.
“Players start to bowl faster and hit the ball harder at that age and can get so much more enjoyment from the game – those years of learning get put into practise. But again, without a summer of cricket I fear we may have lost them.”
Twickenham CC also suffers the problem that so many clubs have across the country – their ground is also communal space on the local Green. That Green this summer has, understandably, been taken over by ‘social bubbles’ meeting to have an evening convivial drink. The chaos that has ensued has been predictable.
Club cricket desperately needs to return and I was delighted to see The Telegraph, who I work for, start a campaign last week to ‘Bring Back Club Cricket.’
It is great to see a national newspaper get behind the subject (plus it should be an easy campaign to ‘win’ – club cricket will return at some point!) and highlight the fact that while the professional game scrambles to save its own summer (and its £280 million broadcast deal) the club game could be dying a quiet – and very sad – death.
Last week the ECB cancelled 14 national tournaments from the National Counties Championship to boys and girls festivals at Under 18 to Under 15 level.
The Telegraph’s cricket correspondent made the point that while club finances won’t necessarily be irrevocably be damaged (around £15 million has been given to recreational cricket through the Government’s small business grants), it is the players that will be lost to the game.
Cricket, for its part, has done its best to facilitate a return to playing under Covid conditions: there are guidelines for players telling them not travel together, to sanitise their hands after moving sightscreens, bring their own water bottles for drink breaks – and a ban on using saliva to shine the vector (sorry, ball).
Michael Vaughan, also writing in The Telegraph, has been pleading for the game to return, observing that more has been done to get people back on golf courses than it has to get them out on the cricket squares of England.
“I worry that grassroots cricket has been neglected,” he said. “Professional sportsmen are paid to play for England. It is their job. But thousands of people give up their time to organise junior and club cricket. They are the true lovers of the game and they deserve to be looked after.”
I hope we are only days away now from a resolution on the return of club cricket – that a generation of cricketers can be energised by its comeback and the true lovers of the game that Vaughan refers to do start to be looked after.
England start their delayed Test series against the West Indies on July 8 – and the BBC are showing daily highlights, the first time in 20 years that Test match cricket has been on terrestrial television. It is time for cricket to come back – and for all those potential future stars of the game to get out onto the country’s cricket pitches.