On Thursday, Cricket World Cup returns to the British mainland for the first time in 20 years. While the England team’s fortunes may have improved massively, the long term health of the sport remains a massive concern.
In 1999, the host nation England, went into the tournament largely unfancied. They had chopped and changed their team, their captain and even, on many occasions, their kit. England were behind the times, trying to apply old fashioned tactics to one day game. The rest of the world had evolved and left them behind. Predictably, the hosts crashed out in the groups.
Fast forward to 2019 and England go into the tournament as favourites. A team full of stars, known for their exciting batting and now possessing some exhilarating pace in the form of newcomer Jofra Archer.
Yet despite this, cricket in UK really does face a participation crisis. ICC head honcho Steve Elworthy says that this year’s version of the tournament is about encouraging participation and not about profit. Here, we look at 5 potential ways that cricket can encourage more interest in the sport.
Free to air coverage
If you’ve ever read any of my articles before (do so here), you’ll know how important I think free TV coverage is to participation. In cricket, the evidence backs this up. Participation has dropped over 30% since the ECB sold the rights to Sky. When something is free, more people have the opportunity to watch. That’s a hugely powerful platform to showcase the excitement. Especially right now, when the England side is performing so well. Let’s hope that Channel 4 picking up the highlights will help bring that to as big an audience as possible.
Short form highlights
TV is not the be all and end all though. We know that younger generations are not watching as much linear TV as their predecessors. Social media does create a great opportunity to reach a younger audience by focussing on a spectacular catch or a huge six. To the ECB’s credit, their YouTube channel is growing at nearly 250,000 subscribers per month. Of course, on a global platform like YouTube, the challenge is ensuring that a large percentage of that audience is in UK. Likewise, showing the audience the route from watching to participating is of paramount importance.
As a sport obsessed kid, I got into cricket because it was on telly. My family had no interest in the sport. So I sat there trying to teach myself the difference between silly mid-on and silly mid-off. When Channel 4 acquired the rights to international cricket in 1999, they broke down the barriers for new audiences. Explaining how a ‘googly’ differed from a ‘doosra’ in a way that didn’t alienate existing fans but made it easier to understand for those dipping into the game. Making the game easy to understand whether watching at home or playing for the first time.
Embracing cultural diversity
Cricket in this country has at times been perceived as a white, middle-class and male game. Yet, the international footprint of the game is a legacy of colonialism. Given the post-war migration of commonwealth workers to UK, the degree of participation from BAME communities varies massively. ECB research suggests that around 30% of recreational cricketers are of South Asian heritage, but that a very small number go through to play professionally (something ECB is looking to address as part of current campaign).
Whilst amongst the black community, there is a struggle to get many players to pick up a bat or ball in the first place. This is something that Kent batsman, Daniel Bell-Drummond is trying to address by launching an initiative designed to encourage younger players (particularly of Caribbean heritage) into the game. As one of only 8 English-qualified black or mixed race players playing first-class cricket in UK, Bell-Drummond suggests that the lack of black players is more of a class issue than a race one. Last year he told The Guardian “We just want to see more diversity right down to club cricket, with more people from all backgrounds, coming in to clubs. You might not find the next Alastair Cook but we just want to get those people playing cricket and feeling they belong in it.”
Continue the grassroots engagement
Chance to Shine is a charity that is geared towards helping children develop through cricket regardless of socio-economic group, ability or gender. Funded by ECB, Sport England and NatWest, Chance to Shine helps close to 500,000 young people play the game each year*. The mission and the initial numbers are encouraging. As is the continued investment from ECB, but in recent years the men’s Test team has been dominated by privately educated players. Suggesting that there is still work to be done to join the dots between the work Chance to Shine are doing and the professional game.
At a time when Jofra Archer, a Barbadian-born fast bowler might just be about to unleash hell on opposition batsman in an England shirt, we can only hope that the next generation of talent are watching and the pathway is clear for them to find their local club and emulate Archer.
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