Cricket is unsustainable; we live in a world where the demand for cricket is falling short of the supply given to us from the authorities. Falling attendances and participation is being met by the constant pumping of money into the game. Where does this lead to? We’ve already seen a snapshot of a future where players who train and play with much richer players see the need to make a little cash on the side by undermining basic moral regulations. This problem is getting worse and the authorities seem reluctant to take serious preventive measures. The worst thing is; greed isn’t the end of cricket’s problems. 13 and a half years into the 21st century, I think it is safe to say that cricket has failed to adapt, leading to a very possible situation where cricket becomes an underground sport played by few and watched by even fewer. This blog is going to highlight and try to address the issues facing our wonderful sport, mainly citing the English game as an example.
Let’s start with the fundamentals, the grass roots of the game. Cricket playing in Britain fell by over 10% in the last 12 months; the figures suggest that only 189,400 people participated in the sport, at least once a week, between April 2012 and April 2013. To put that into some perspective, over the same period of time 1.94 million people participated in football, 1.96 million in athletics and 2.89 million in swimming. There are many reasons for this, and a few of them that stand out are basic perception issues – something that the ECB should and could change. First of all, cricket is seen as old-fashioned and boring. A way that the authorities tried to address this was bring in T20 which worked to a point but is now losing its charm and has led to yet another problem cricket has to answer for (something I will talk about later). How do you change this opinion? First things first you have to openly advertise it to children. The biggest regret in my life is that I didn’t pick up a bat or a ball while I was in primary school and the reason I didn’t was because nobody advertised cricket to me. They spend the whole time championing other sports such as football and gymnastics so much that cricket gets forgotten about. This problem had got worse by the time I reached secondary school, with rounders seen as an easier option for teenagers to play. If teenagers aren’t interested in the sport then it’s because the education system isn’t educating enough people about it! Most of my friends who are cricket lovers didn’t fall in love with the sport during PE lessons, they found out about it through their parents. Indeed, my love for the game stems from my Dad and Grandpa (as well as a day where I had nothing to do and there was this strange thing called a test match on TV). While this is fine for my generation, it will not be for the next. Unfortunately, in this country, there are a lot of problems with the education system and so the fact that cricket isn’t on the curriculum enough isn’t seen as a massive problem by government officials. Cricket clubs aren’t advertised openly by schools either and so teenagers are being left with the option of taking initiative and researching them or just stay at home and watch TV. I’m 20; I know what teenagers are going to choose!
So, emphasise cricket in the curriculum or tell schools to take the initiative by including it themselves and everything will be rosy right? Well, no of course not. This doesn’t address the boring tag cricket has assumed and neither does it solve the fact that in this country it is seen as a posh sport. There are cricket grounds in Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham (although Edgbaston is the posh area of Birmingham), which is good news for cricket authorities, as this can attract and change the opinions of people who may think cricket is posh, yet it isn’t going far enough. My view, and maybe I’m totally missing the point here – please pick me up on it if I am, is that schools are reluctant to teach a sport that previously was mainly taught in boarding schools, all boys’ schools and grammar schools. It isn’t seen as a game for the people however there is no reason why not. It doesn’t discriminate, in fact the history of cricket has openly criticised those who do discriminate. Cricket is one of the few sports where people suffering from depression, or people who are gay feel safe enough, and confident enough that there won’t be a backlash from their peers to open up to the public. For some reason, the spirit of the game isn’t shining through and appealing to the youth of today.
Finally, we should move onto the boring tag. Cricket is an intelligent sport; there are a lot of rules (and I definitely am not aware of all of them!) and so it requires a lot of thought, care and attention to play and watch. This gets translated in today’s society as boring or too time consuming. Instead of being enthralled by the twists and turns that a game can provide, people get turned off by the apparent slowness of it. This is something that I’m struggling to find a solution to and is a problem which is affecting more than just cricket. TV shows that don’t require much thought are thriving and hence being continued whereas those which are intelligent are being left behind or scrapped. Intelligence is not appreciated the way it should be, it isn’t drilled into people’s heads enough that being intelligent is not a bad thing and it definitely doesn’t make you a total recluse! Hopefully this is just a phase, although with technology making everything easier for people we are breeding a generation that won’t be able to think for themselves.
Let’s not kid ourselves that cricket is being played by a lot of people around the world either. The global participation in the game is a tiny droplet in the ocean compared to the global stats of football or rugby. I’ll name you five countries which are sport mad where cricket is of little importance: Russia, America (despite their pathetic appearance at the World Cup one year), China, France and Germany. Now, I’m not saying that the sport will ever be huge in those countries however there is a way to make them take note of it, given that all 5 are very competitive when it comes to competing with one another: The Olympics. Cricket has been in the Olympics before, when back in 1900 two teams representing Great Britain and France played a 2 day version of the game. In truth, it was a total farce and has never been repeated; however those were the pre-T20 days. I believe, this is possibly complete naivety, that America and China would take T20 cricket to heart. It is fast, explosive and less complicated to understand. Hong Kong already has a T20 side which can be competitive on an international level, America would soon follow suit if China became a genuine medal threat in the sport. The good news for cricket lovers is that the Chinese Cricket authorities have said they want to have a test side by 2020; this is optimistic but at least it is definitely a step in the right direction. The logistic issues of the Olympics, such as where to hold matches, are solvable by the ICC as well – for example, South Africa played a recent ODI series in the football stadiums left by the 2010 world cup. Olympic cricket will never be “proper cricket” but it will give the sport a global platform, which is exactly what it is screaming out for right now.
Heading back to the English game to finish this section on attendance, the England international matches are usually a sell out although with the sheer amount of them and such high prices this may not last forever. The real issue with the England game lies with County Cricket attendances. When Simon Kerrigan made his England debut during the final Ashes test, a high proportion of people on twitter thought that England had plucked a complete unknown out of the county game. They didn’t know that Kerrigan was one of the main reasons why Lancashire won the county championship in 2011, including taking 9 wickets in one innings against a talented Hampshire batting line up. County Championship and YB40 attendances are smaller than most domestic sports in the country, a trend that is not going to change when the YB40 becomes the YB50. The event that draws the crowd in has been reduced for the past couple of years, when the ECB split the number of T20 groups from 2 to 3 (although it has increased the quality of T20 cricket in this country). If the county game continues to decline there will be no money to invest into new players to play for England and hence our national side’s quality will decline, leading to a reduction in attendance at their matches. Too many people in this country are only interested in the very top of the game, rather than looking at what is happening underneath that level. The ECB needs to find a way to attract visitors to watch county cricket, where the standard of play is usually very high. In fact, I find LVCC matches sometimes more exciting than Test Matches as they are played at a much faster pace while retaining the suspense and drama.
For me, one of the biggest problems facing cricket is not attendances but rather the greed factor. The IPL is a wonderful tournament yet the negative connotations of it are plain for everyone to see. The difference in wages between a young Indian boy, who has scored a few centuries in the Ranji trophy, and someone such as KP, who is recognised everywhere in cricket playing nations, are huge, as you would expect, but it’s more than that – they are disproportional. This just leads to a greed culture where the younger players want a lot more money and as they aren’t getting it from their franchises; they look elsewhere and this usually leads to cheating. In many ways, money has become more important than winning these days however the ICC are in a difficult situation as the IPL is one of the few tournaments to be broadcasted across the world. The T20 format, which was meant to deliver cricket to those who hadn’t been interested before, has led to the game having more money however this money has bred this unenviable situation, as well as a growing practice of drugs and partying as the tragic death of Tom Maynard showed. The line between success and selfishness is being crossed on a regular basis.
It’s very possible that I’m over-exaggerating the issues that the ICC is facing, without even addressing some of them, as I have a habit of doing that. However, someone needs to write about how falling attendances and participation can be fatal for a sport that is played by so few countries. The cricketing authorities provide us with a lot of games across the year, which is wonderful to an extent. That extent comes when even those who love the game as much as I do realise that this amount of anything is simply too much. At the time of writing, I feel that I’ve seen too much cricket this year and there is still an ODI series between England and Australia and the culmination of the County Championship to go in the next month. With the football season breaks getting seemingly shorter every year, there is the genuine possibility that cricket will lose all importance in this country should our national side’s ability decline. Questions need to be asked and answers need to be found as quickly as possible.