The governing bodies of most sports are wringing their hands and worrying about participation levels falling. Cricket is no exception, and whilst the major Cricket Leagues and the ECB fret mainly about the state of Saturday League Cricket, the state of Sunday Cricket is far, far, worse!!
In our local area of North Herts and South Cambridgeshire we all know that on most Sundays you will struggle to find a Cricket Match being played on the majority of the grounds where Saturday League Cricket is still regularly played.
At Reed we are one of the exceptions in that a match is played by at least one Reed Xl every Sunday. In addition to the regular players, there is also a hard core of spectators and families that come up to the ground each Sunday for a bite of tea, a picnic, or an early evening aperitif from the Club Bar! An appearance from the sun always helps to swell the crowd – but so far the sun has been absent for most of summer 2016!!
Even the National Village Cricket Cup, with the tantalising prospect of playing in the Final at Lords Cricket Ground, does not seem capable of motivating many village clubs to play on even a few Sundays of the early/mid summer! Some of the NVC Cup entry figures for counties that consider themselves “strong” Cricket playing Counties ought to be an embarrassment to their County Cricket Associations!
Look at these local “Two Counties NVC Group” Club participation numbers!
Cambridgeshire and Norfolk (5 Teams!): Cambs 3 !!! Norfolk 2 !!!
Essex and Suffolk (14 Teams!): Essex 12 Suffolk 2 !!!
Herts & Beds. (11 Teams!): Herts 9 Bedfordshire 2 !!!
Even with this very low level of entries there are voluminous “Walkovers” conceded. This year a team not a million miles from Stevenage, who enter 3 x Teams in the Saturday SHCL, conceded a Herts and Beds County Semi-Final match!! (just 6 wins from Lords!).
We ourselves played our first (rained off) NVC County Final against a well run, Herts Clubmark/Focus Club whose ground is used by Herts for Minor Counties matches. They operate 3 x Saturday League Xl’s and run Colts from 9 – 16 yrs. Yet they arrive to play this important match with 10 men! (Possibly this might have been due to some of their members not wishing to play, and having to field for 2 hours, listening to the endless, unbelievably tedious, absolute drivel, being constantly disseminated by their vociferous wicket-keeper! Banter? No!
Mindless drivel – Yes!
Tedious, for Players, Umpires, and Spectators of BOTH sides? YES!!
So the National Village Cup needs a radical re-launch. That ought to be possible with the tremendous prize they have at the end of it! Is anyone at The Cricketer motivated to do it though?
SO – Sunday Cricket – is it dying?
It looks like it at the moment!
Whatever the counter attractions from other sports, “Shopping!”, and the multiple top level sports displayed on the many TV channels, Cricket itself does not help the Sunday cause.
Various ECB led “perceptions”, ideas”, preferences, and recommendations seek to build the “great god” of Saturday League Cricket into some ludicrously perceived replica of “professional” Cricket. Start times get earlier, matches get longer, welfare breaks increase, and the matches generally somehow get slower and more boring! (A real incentive to participation and spectating!).
When a husband/father/young man leaves home at 9.00am on a Saturday morning to “professionally” prepare for an hour before an away league match starting at 11.30, followed (eventually!) by a possible 7pm finish (home by 10pm), is it any surprise that a wife/mother/girlfriend who hasn’t seen them for 50% of the weekend says “You can forget any idea of playing on Sunday as well”!!
Even as a competitive sporting event Cricket does not currently help itself.
Do we really have to snarl at, and disrespect, our opponents?
Is it not enough anymore to enjoy the marvellous game of Cricket, to hopefully outplay the opposition – and then jovially remind them all about it in the bar afterwards?
Probably not, because after spending upwards of 6 hours seeking to spoil, irritate and upset the opposition with “banter” in a match, maybe participants are too embarrassed to want to fraternise with the opposition and discuss the match and people’s performances in the bar?
But are we surprised – and who led this charge towards banter/abuse?
From my experience it was certainly many Junior Age-Group County Cricket Coaches who constantly berated the top drawer 10 – 16 year old players with the claims that “You are too quiet!”, “Make more Noise!” Sledging/Banter was seen as being “Like a Professional”!!
Wicket-keepers were particularly targeted to “lead” the “Banter”!
How often these days do you hear a modern young Cricketer exclaim “Good Shot” when an opponent strikes an exquisite boundary?
How often do you witness a post match “Darts Challenge” in the Bar?
Who these days even knows what a “Duck Run Derby” is?
We need MORE hard fought FUN matches, MORE pleasure, MORE appreciation of the opposition, MORE Fraternisation after a match.
LESS Snarling, LESS Aggression, LESS “Banter”!
Then maybe, amateur Cricket (yes you are Amateurs – NOT Aspiring professionals!), has a chance of more enjoyment, and maybe Sunday Cricket might see something of a renaissance and come back from the brink?
(This Occasional column is written by John Heslam Club Chairman of Reed Cricket Club. The views expressed in the article are his own and do not necessarily comprise those of the Clubs General Committee)