As we edge cautiously into a summer of cricket, plans are starting to be made in clubs around the country for junior coaching for this year.
We read of schemes to develop diversity in cricket and, while these are welcome, what needs to be tackled is that cricket has a class problem. It's this wealth disparity which is blocking the opportunity for more people to engage with the game.
For a young person to get into cricket is sometimes prohibitively expensive: with equipment, club fees, playing kit etc required, you are look at a minimum outlay of £350. Then there are matches, tea and travel costs. If you are talented, then it's the same again for county matches. Conservative estimates suggest you are looking at least £500 to play a summer of cricket – at a time when there is high unemployment and people are struggling to support their own families.
Even before we get to that point, more people need access to understanding what cricket is. Some of the fee-paying schools have extraordinary resources: nets, pitches, even established cricket masters. The opportunity for youngsters at these institutions is massive.
Yet only seven per cent of UK children attend such schools. In state (non-fee paying) schools, there is a lack of equipment or facilities – and, with the stigma of it being a complicated game to get to grips with- young people are not getting the opportunity to play. This is a massive untapped market of potential for our continual growth of the game.
And this does not just stop at those who want to play: if you want to get into cricket journalism, coaching, officiating, they all come with costs – fees to join, fees for courses, fees to aid continual development. Time off work is another consideration. For some people this is beyond reach. We have become entrenched in a system where cricket is for the few and not the many.
A couple of examples: working through a 2021 Women and Girls coaching plan this week, it was disappointing to see that the example that clubs were given to show a "good" community engagement had the line "working with local preparatory school to increase girls' access to cricket". Well hang on, what about the state schools in your catchment area?
And in a recent discussion with a Cricket Engagement programme, the organisers had run heat maps to identify where there were large black or Asian communities, to increase diverse engagement, in theory a top idea.
In reality the heat map revealed that cricket engagement sessions were to be held in a park near three cricket clubs whose player base was from the wealthy Asian community surrounding them. It completely ignored a nearby socio-economic deprived area where there is no access to the game, and where the community is a mix of black, Asian, Middle Eastern, European and white working-class.
It is welcome to learn of more schemes to support children from non-affluent backgrounds. The MCC Foundation – the charitable arm of the MCC – is running cricket hubs where talented state school cricketers are provided with kit and support to continue to develop their skills. Chance to Shine programmes, which seek to take cricket into state schools, are increasing access and engagement – although you need a coach base in a county, and funding, to support this.
If you are reading this wondering what you can do to increase the participation of state-school children, here are a couple of ideas. If you are part of a club, work with your committee to see if there is an avenue for coaches or players to do taster sessions in local state schools, and support access into the game at the club -. provision of equipment, removing stigmas that everyone has to have club kit, and support to attend practice and games. If there's equipment not being used in the clubhouse, can that equipment go to a local school to make use of? These are just some suggestions, there are others.
When we take a step back and check our cricketing structures, the more we will recognise and break down the financial barriers, to facilitate access that allows the game to grow.