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The Missing Millions – The Lack Of Opportunities To Play Cricket In The United Kingdom, Changing Attitudes And Investing In Youth

Written by: Christiaan Partridge, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Christiaan Partridge

The Yorkshire County Cricket Club racism case highlighted issues surrounding problems in professional cricket and also deficiencies in the regulatory processes of the ECB (England & Wales Cricket Board). The Sky documentary, You Guys Are History,” documented the awful experiences of England’s international cricketers of Afro-Caribbean descent. Since then, the ECB has developed the Raising The Game portal to address the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. In 2005, a charitable organisation, Chance To Shine,” was set up to provide cricket taster sessions in primary schools to try and foster a love for the game. Part-funded by the ECB and Sport England, they engage with about a quarter of primary schools in England and Wales. But I have questions on whether these measures have impacted grassroots cricket much and whether more steps need to be taken. 

Cricket batsmen playing on the field.

Partly driven by my experiences as a teenage cricketer and my recent experience as a coach going into secondary schools, a lot still needs to be done to improve the experience of our potential next generation of cricketers.

Imagine the scene: you are new to the game but have enjoyed a winter indoor coaching programme; you are out in the field in your first youth cricket match. Just about to turn 14, you are playing in an Under 16s match on a chilly May evening on a very exposed ground. You weren’t needed to bat, and your bowling didn’t go well—the umpiring coach offered no support. Your match ends with a dropped catch, unable to hold on as your hands are now so cold that the ball stings as it hits them. The outcome is that the coach suggests that you try a different sport, that maybe cricket isn’t for you. That is the end of your cricket season, the end of any coaching and a troubled boy leaves the club for the last time. Cricket is played at your school, but P.E. lessons were weekly and only an hour long; you might get to have a bowl some weeks, bat once in a blue moon, and spend most of the time fielding with about 20 others.

I was lucky to attend a state school where cricket was played; we had two artificial pitches and some basic equipment back when pads had leather straps and buckles. There was a school cricket club in which I was involved, but in those early days, I had few opportunities to play in matches. My Father had been a cricketer, and through his enthusiasm and perseverance, I effectively taught myself to bowl, having watched cricket mainly on television when we could all watch on terrestrial television channels. The following year, I joined an adult team, but there again, in the early years, I was given little opportunity other than fielding for up to 2 and ½ hours at a time. 

I managed to forge a successful village cricket career as a bowler, but due to amblyopia and red-green colour blindness, I could never bat very well. I have been captain of my village team and have become an ECB Core Coach to try to develop the next generation. I hope no other child has my experience as a teenager; measures taken in the past 20 years have resolved such situations. I now also voluntarily coach girls' softball cricket at the local state secondary school, a sports academy with one artificial pitch, essential protective equipment, and bats and engages with me as a club coach to a certain extent. My current club has an excellent youth coaching setup, is very well organised and supports as many as 50 children in their pursuit of enjoying and playing cricket.Many attend private schools with their own cricket coaches; all have their own equipment and are fully engaged in coaching. 

But they are the ones who can afford to play; cricket can be a costly game, incurring membership and match fees and the cost of equipment such as helmets and bats. Whilst my club and local school have some basic equipment, it may not necessarily be of the correct sizes, presenting other issues. With all that is mentioned above and some of the awful circumstances that have arisen in club, county, and international cricket, it is clear that there remains significant elitism in cricket and a lack of investment in state school sports provision. Whether this requires investment from the ECB, the government, or both, something needs to change much more quickly than Raising The Game manages.The ACE programme developed by Ebony Rainsford-Brent is one such driver of change but is not available nationwide yet. Cricket needs to be higher on the agenda at every state-run school, especially those who are marketing themselves as a sports academy. Resources are diverted towards academia for books and educational equipment, to the detriment of sporting activities. Whilst there are cricket teams for boys and girls, other nearby secondary schools do not provide any coaching input. Our national game suffers as a result.

There are opportunities at local cricket clubs for those with no cricket provision at school; the Chance To Shine programme does get to some Primary schools in the area, but it is not widespread enough. However, this interest appears to drop off quickly and again, it is for the schools to engage. The ECB recently introduced All Stars and Dynamos Cricket programmes for 5-8-year-olds and 9-11-year-olds, but we are already seeing a fall in numbers. These programmes supply a basic kit for each participant as part of the cost; the club that provides the programme can add a small membership fee. 

There are few choices of indoor facilities in my locality, and those who do have facilities are often overbooked or have little capacity as other sporting uses take priority, especially those that take up less of the spaces available.

However, more investment in school cricket and incentives for schools to engage are needed to turn the tide. Funding must come centrally, coaching opportunities made available and accessible to teachers, and a closer engagement between schools and local clubs. Whilst I continue to push in my local, there aren’t enough like-minded people to make a significant difference. The next Ben Stokes or Joe Root could be overlooked simply because they attend a state-run school. Both the government and ECB are guilty, and I would like to see a significant change in policy for one of our national sports.

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Christiaan Partridge Brainz Magazine

Christiaan Partridge, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Christiaan Partridge is a Family Doctor, Photographer, football coach and cricket coach. Having picked up a camera at a relatively late stage in life, Christiaan has recently achieved a First Class Honours degree in Photography via the University of Chester. For the past 7 years, he has been a youth football coach and also an ECB Core Cricket Coach. Christiaan also has vast experience in running amateur sports clubs, specializes manly in Landscape Photography, with a particular interest in Therapeutic Photography to treat minor mental illness.



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