Last year just over 800,000 people played a game of cricket at any point during the summer. In Australia the corresponding figure was over a million people. The population of the United Kingdom was estimated to be 63.2 million for the 2011 UK census whereas in Australia their census that year was 21.5 million. So a country that has a population 1/3 of the size of the UK has 31% more players playing cricket in Australia than in the UK.
At the moment the attention of some UK cricket fans, current professionals and ex-professionals is focused upon the spectacle of the Big Bash Twenty20 League in Australia. Currently in its fourth season there appears to be a growing number of county cricketers who want the ECB to adopt this format. This is despite the fact that 2015 is the 2nd season of a revamped schedule designed to give fans an ‘appointment to view’ for championship, one day and Twenty20 cricket and thereby create predictability for fans wanting to watch cricket throughout the year. So in a classic case that will be familiar with anybody who has watched England playing one day cricket since 1992, people within the game want to tear up the way cricket is played in the UK after having only recently changed the schedule.
But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that the UK has 18 professional cricket teams (excluding international sides for men’s and women’s cricket for the ECB, Ireland & Scotland) and a playing audience that is markedly smaller than in Australia, who have 8 professional cricket teams at the domestic level. For me the central question about any proposed changes to the structure of Twenty20 cricket in this country is “will this grow the number of spectators and players involved in cricket throughout the country?”
I think there are three ideas that could aid the growth of cricket in this country as a playing and spectator sport.
1). Make it easier for people to find their nearest club. The ECB and Cricket Australia both run a website called Play Cricket. The ECB could get their Play Cricket website, already the central database for recreational cricket statistics to mirror the functionality of the Australian Play Cricket website. The Australian Play Cricket website is everything you could want if you were interested in getting involved in the game in your area. When the user enters a postcode and select a type of cricket that they are interested in a map appears listing the nearest cricket clubs to the user’s postcode, what types of cricket they run (colts, women’s and men’s) and the format (Saturday, Sunday and Twenty20) they play. It is a fantastic resource and it is one that the ECB should be looking to replicate ahead of a home Ashes summer. Instead over the last 15 months the ECB has tried to upgrade their Play Cricket website but the results have been patchy at best, in part because the website is so customisable that clubs have been left to design their own sub-sites themselves, which leaves the quality of the design in the hands of club administrators and web development skills in each club can be very patchy.
The ECB have placed great value on their Club Mark scheme and it is not beyond the realms of possibility for them to have a database of every cricket club with accreditation to be searchable. That supposedly backwards and fuddy-duddy institution the Church of England has a searchable database of all its churches, so why doesn’t the ECB offer this?
2). Make the One Day Cup final an end-of-season spectacle. Dave Brooks is a former CEO of Sussex CCC and judging by his Twitter feed, he cares very much for the game and thinks about ways in which the game can be improved in this country. His idea of making the Lord’s final in September a celebration of club cricket has great merit and should be embraced wholeheartedly. Players at clubs from the two counties who make it to the final should be offered tickets for free in the fortnight after the semi-finals. Any tickets not taken up should then be offered to all clubs registered with the ECB. It would be a way to recognise the hard work put in by players at the end of a long season.
3). Offer all attendees of a Twenty20 match a discount on a cricket club membership.
In 2014 704,205; 122 people attended a Natwest T20 blast match. The aim of Twenty20 was originally to attract new audiences to watching and, hopefully, playing the game. What better way to link Twenty20 to the development of the recreational game by giving supporters who attend a Natwest T20 blast a discount voucher for an annual membership to an ECB-registered cricket club? With the normal voucher terms and conditions it could be a great introductory gateway to a lifetime of playing cricket. Yes this would have to be subsidised by the ECB, but what’s the point of all that SKY money if we can’t speculate to accumulate more players for this game that means a lot to me, my friends, my club mates and fellow cricket-lovers all over the country?
Post-script. Here’s a cracking idea from Joanne Vickers
 Ecb.co.uk, (2014). ECB announces key findings from 2014 National Cricket Playing Survey. [online] Available at: http://www.ecb.co.uk/news/articles/ecb-announces-key-findings-2014-national-cricket-playing-survey [Accessed 30 Dec. 2014].
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 Playreg.cricket.com.au, (2014). PlayCricket. [online] Available at: http://playreg.cricket.com.au/pages/clubfinder.aspx?redirect=1&pcode=0870&mode=32 [Accessed 31 Dec. 2014].
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 Cricinfo, (2014). T20 attendances tell two tales. [online] Available at: http://www.espncricinfo.com/county-cricket-2014/content/story/773321.html [Accessed 31 Dec. 2014].