When the England and Wales Cricket Board learnt that only two per cent of five to 12-year-olds placed cricket in their top 10 sports it provided a stark reminder of the fight the game faces to stay relevant.
In response the ECB on Monday launched All Stars Cricket, its first grass-roots initiative aimed at primary schoolchildren. The target is to attract 50,000 children to the game this year as cricket attempts to become more accessible after a decade on pay-per-view television and at the same time as the county game debates a new city-based Twenty20 competition.
“Unless a child has picked up a bat by the time they leave primary school there is very little chance of them playing or being a fan of the game so unless we get them at this age we have no chance,” said Matt Dwyer, the ECB’s director of participation and growth who introduced a similar programme in Australia. “This is also the age group when children are sampling a different range of activities so we want to invest in a great first experience in the game for them.
“We have done lots of insights into the relevance of cricket for five to 12-year-olds and less than two per cent of kids have cricket as their favourite sport so regardless of what factors have led to that stat, it is a concerning stat and proves the game is not as relevant as we would like it to be. Moving forward we will find a solution.”
Cricket has long been a sport played within families. In his book Game of Life, Scyld Berry, The Telegraph cricket correspondent, wrote that 154 of 665 England Test cricketers have had a father, brother or uncle who has played international cricket. Another 110 have a father, brother or half-brother who has played first-class cricket.
“It is going to be cricket as kids have never seen it before” says Dwyer. “It will teach all skills of the game but it is not about the technical level of the game. It is about having fun. There will be badges for the children every time they learn a new skill like catching, throwing, fielding, bowling and batting.
“One of the insights we got last year was that three-quarters of kids in the UK spend less time outside than a prison inmate and that is a stark stat. One of the reasons is in built-up areas there is a lack of green space and we have had that in mind with the programme. It is flexible and can be run anytime anywhere at any time of the year.”
After registering, children will be sent a cricket backpack personalised with the England team logo containing a bat and ball. They will receive a welcome video message from Joe Root and emails from England players when they learn a new skill. Children will start an eight-week programme at a local club. The ECB already has 2,000 clubs signed up to the scheme.
Many clubs already have a thriving junior section. It is keeping hold of them in the teenage years that is tough but Dwyer’s experience in Australia is that the drop-off is less when children are introduced to the game at an earlier age.