@Rich_Wisden 6 minute read
Wisden Cricket Monthly club cricket editor Rich Evans revisits a year of grassroots cricket in 2018 and the themes examined in The Club Debate.
There are many inconvenient truths that emerge from every topic covered in The Club Debate. Firstly, there is no single problem or contagion for the gradual decline of club cricket. All its frailties and inhibitions are interlinked with one another, culminating in a failing feedback loop that’s in need of an overhaul.
But there’s still a passionate band of devotees who truly love the game and will fight to keep their club and game thriving. Every month that passion reveals itself, sometimes through fear, sadness, anger or resentment. The odd observer finds no faults in their club or the game at-large, seemingly immune from the issues affecting the many.
Cricket and social change have never been cosy bedfellows, but the ‘New Competition’ confirms that the game is open to burying the hatchet, even if it risks alienating its own. How the ECB and league administrators manage this revolution over the next few years will be fascinating, challenging and, at times, frightening. The Hundred is coming, whether we like it or not (see next month’s Club Debate in the New Year).
Thus, Project Future-Proof is our Everest. We must continue to climb through the adverse climate: if we freeze, we die. That deceptively wise old dog Rocky Balboa once said: “It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” But in order to do so, we must replenish our diminishing pool of volunteers.
But people are time-poor. They don’t have time to volunteer; time to commit to playing every week; time to travel an hour to a match; time to trailblaze Club Cricket 2.0. Time is forever the watchword of the game; the one-word answer to club cricket’s crisis; bestest friend turned nemesis, yet at the centrepoint of a hastily plotted revamp; that associate we despise but must keep on-side.
Club cricket is shrinking; leagues and clubs are merging and the ECB are pushing for “monster” pyramid structures to enable all cricket to fall under one roof. That’s a mighty job but progress is being made, while initiatives like the London Cricket Trust and the ECB’s South Asian strategy are attempting to increase access and enhance equality in talent identification. Meanwhile, ‘friendly’ cricket continues to fade into irrelevance, perhaps to the game’s detriment.
This diminution of the grassroots game can be unsettling, but after a deep breath and ponder it’s easy to conclude that pooling our resources could enable us to deliver the right ‘product’ – the kind of product that will address the alarming teenage drop-off rate or the declining number of thirty-somethings who cannot accommodate our leisurely pastime around work and family life. But how this shrinking is managed and can absorb the undying pressures of start times and travel distances is pivotal.
Availability levels continue to decline, though we’re told more people are playing but they’re playing a lot less. As a skipper, in learning of a player’s unavailability, I ask, “Why not?”, even though it’s none of my business. What could they be doing that’s better than this?
But convincing a youngster to stand in a field all day is no small task, especially if they have a new girlfriend. “Bring them along,” I ask with a tinge of desperation. “The weather forecast is great. Play a bit of cricket, then take them out for dinner. Sorted.” But you feel a bit like Alan Partridge talking to his panting son on the blower from a run-down hotel room:
“Fernando, you’re twenty-two years old and you’re spending your Saturday afternoon in bed with a girl. You’re wasting your life. It’s a beautiful day. Take her out to a local fort or a Victorian folly”
Perhaps club cricket is a Victorian folly; a picturesque landscape created to suit a fanciful, outdated palate; one disengaged with the new, standing defiantly but hopelessly, as its foundations erode. Of course we won’t accept this damning appraisal – we’re fighters, and a sinfully nostalgic bunch.
There are impeccably-run, family-orientated clubs out there, who are a social hub of their community, but there are many who limp from one season to the next. It’s particularly disheartening when former grassroots giants tumble into disarray, sometimes due to the loss of a benefactor or internal squabbling. The Darwinian evolutionary theory in is full force – it’s survival of the fittest out there, and emblem and heritage only count for so much.
The spirit of cricket on the village green was truly tested this year when a player head-butted an umpire for turning down an lbw appeal – Law 42 wasn’t a deterrent in that instance – while in-fighting, politics and self-interest also continue to plague the administration of cricket clubs.
Nevertheless, whilst there are obvious obstacles for the grassroots game to overcome, they are not insurmountable. Despite outside influences, much of our destiny can still be shaped by us. There are too many people who love the game to simply rock back and allow it to perish, but we must find new ways to placate the modern club cricketer.
The one obvious takeaway from club cricket in 2018? We must club together. If we are to sign a peace treaty with external forces, we can’t afford factions in our army.
Below we have listed the Club Debates that have been published on wisden.com in 2018. We hope you enjoy revisiting them. Each debate provides a page to a never-ending blueprint.
Wisden is passionate about grassroots cricket and will continue to cover stories at the heart of the game in 2019. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to express any views on club cricket – we’d love to hear from you.
The Club Debates 2018: From January to December