Harry Gurney and Club Cricket
This week I have been looking at getting Jos, the Addis Army’s youngest member, Christened, and those of you who have been there before will know that it can be quite tricky sorting the whole godparent thing. Super traditional churches will only allow a baptism with the correct number of godparents (three, with two the same gender as the baby) who have been both baptised and confirmed within the Church of England. By those criteria, we’re going quite a long way down the list of ‘people we like’ to find people who qualify. It’s very frustrating and feels like the ancient institution of the Church of England is somewhat shooting itself in the foot, clinging on to old obstacles.
Fortunately, today I met with the vicar of the church in the next village whose view was ‘pick the people you value; don’t be restricted by qualifying criteria, job’s a good’un, just email me when you’ve picked a date.’ /p>
This was both refreshing and pragmatic: an institution in decline, struggling to be relevant to the younger generations whose lives and lifestyles are very different to those originally served by the rules making a positive choice to encourage participation.
And thus to Harry Gurney’s now controversial tweets about the best formats for club cricket: “All club cricket should be t20 or “hundred” etc. It would lead to increased participation at grass roots level. More exciting for younger generations and done and dusted in 3 hours so people who work long hours can enjoy family time at weekends alongside it.
There was an ensuing ‘debate’ on Twitter, followed by some discussion (disclosure: I missed it) on Sky Sports involving Stuart Broad during the T20 coverage in the West Indies. In fairness to Harry Gurney, he fully engaged with those who were questioning and criticising him on Twitter, sticking to his guns and explaining in further detail why he suggested it.
His view is grounded in a desire to increase the number of club cricketers devoting their time to the game and it’s a reasonable point: the number of men (and women) who are willing, let alone able, to devote a full Saturday and/or Sunday to club cricket is diminishing.
Beyond the highest-performing club sides, if you wander along to your local cricket ground of a weekend you’re likely to see a side made up of jolly, rotund chaps past 40 and the odd stringy under-15 who’s been called up (often because his dad is playing, anyway, so his transport’s sorted). The ECB is aware of damning statistics about cricket’s ‘lost’ 17-35 year olds.
There are surely numerous reasons why cricket is losing out to other recreational sports in the competition for people’s time, money and effort. For a start, it really is time-consuming. Factor in an 8-hour playing day, plus up to an hour or even more in travel each way, especially in rural areas, and then the post-match socialising and you’ve taken up the whole day. It’s not easy to fit in your other relationships/children/chores around that.
Club cricket worked really well when people stayed in their local town or village their whole life. It meant that not only were they local to the club, but so was their whole social circle: far fewer weekend visits to parents/in-laws/friends to disrupt their availability to play. In addition, if your journey to work was 25 minutes, and your hours 9-5, then giving up a Saturday was rather less of a big deal than it is for millennials (and will be for those who follow us) who commute further and work longer hours than ever before.
Cycling and, seemingly resultingly, triathlon, are two of the fastest-growing sports in the UK based on participation. Unlike cricket, it is possible to train alone and/or with a group or club, and to schedule it all to suit you. There is no expectation of regular attendance, and you can pick events anywhere in the country, even the world, and join in with your friends and family. An Olympic distance triathlon will usually begin early on a Sunday (anywhere from 5.30-10.00am) but you’re done in time for a celebratory pub lunch with plenty of weekend to spare.
For many, club cricket also doesn’t offer the kind of physicality they want for their own fitness. Yes, if you’re a decent bowler you’ll get a decent workout, but if you get out second ball and stand around in the field for 4 hours, followed by an equal number of pints at close of play, well….it’s easy to see how those men became so jolly and rotund! It’s just not easy to get fit playing cricket, whereas running, cycling and swimming are all easy wins in that regard. The health and fitness industry is huge and it has moved on far beyond club cricket, I’m afraid.
Our local cricket club is doing well. It has a top quality first XI (for Suffolk! We’re no Lancashire League but whatever) and has just refitted the pavilion so as to better serve the local community, showing other sporting events in the off-season, hosting regular quiz/gig/dinner events and has scheduled an open-mic night to follow the first home match of the season. I suppose to traditionalists this all sounds ghastly, but they are doing what they need to do to survive and thrive in a world where the competition for attention and participation is so strong.
Test cricket will survive without amateur club cricket. But if we want the clubs to survive because we love our game, they need to adapt to ensure their relevance. Good luck to them all.