Spreading the gospel of cricket: the book aiming to hook in the young, in any language

Howzatt Cricket record book beginners guide to cricket

Tony Bishop

"Howzattt – Incwadi Yami Yekhilikithi – Le Ncwadi eyabadlali abfuna ukwazi kangcono ngekhilikithi"

For non-Zulu speakers, only the first word of the above may seem reassuringly familiar. In English, it translates as "Howzattt – My Cricket Record Book – a beginner's guide to the game".

Behind that simple phrase, lies a fascinating story of vision, determination and passionate care for the future of cricket. It's an uplifting tale of a cricketing family from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa who have produced a book aimed at entertaining while explaining cricket to a young audience, and taking that story to a worldwide audience.

In so doing, Michelle Lang, the author, believes it will appeal not just to new young players, but crucially to their parents and those who watch from the boundary as their offspring take the first tentative steps with bat or ball in hand.

It is, undoubtedly, a bold mission. In so many countries, participation is declining. The reasons for this are well-documented, ranging from unequal distribution of wealth, lack of free-to-air coverage to make watching more accessible and inconsistent levels of grassroots support. Throw into that mix the sheer cost in both time and money and a TikTok generation in which younger people read less and have shorter attention spans.

One conversation with Michelle, mother of four boys and a real estate agent, instantly instils faith that Howzattt has not just been crafted with her knowledge and research, but is in the hands of someone with the drive and determination to make it a global success.

Indeed, the mission set for Howzattt is to be "ambassadors for the sport by assisting with the education of the youth [and the growth and development of the game within our communities".

The book itself is just 32 pages but in that short space it covers the sport's history, basic rules, cricket terms, types of strokes, fielding positions and types of bowling. It achieves simplicity without ever patronising the reader.

Michelle explained that the Howzattt story began as far back as 1997 originally as a cricket record book and won the backing of cricket legends such as Bob Woolmer, the late South Africa coach and Dr Ali Bacher, the former head of the South Africa Cricket Union.

The book has recently been updated and last year Cricket South Africa endorsed it and linked up with Michelle so that a percentage of book sales goes towards cricket development in the country. They have also created an app for their four million fans and the Howzattt E-Pub book is available to those fans via the platform.

Michelle is very clear on how to move forwards, stating: "My focus is now on forming business affiliations with other international cricketing bodies, so that we can offer to translate the book into their local language and also ensure that a percentage of the sales from those books can to put towards raising funds for their cricket development programmes too."

In the meantime, Howzattt has also partnered with the KZN Cricket Union, based at the Kingsmead Stadium in Durban, which is also the home of the successful Dolphins franchise. This is of particular value due to the Union's development programme, which reaches townships in all 15 districts of the province.

The book is currently available in both the English and isi-Zulu language, but translations of the book through a partnership with an Australian sports promoter, Ken Jacobs, the former chief executive of Cricket Victoria and at present a director of Cricket Without Borders, are under way.

"Our aim is to translate the book into different native languages beginning in his home country of Australia with the Aboriginal dialects," says Michelle.

Howzattt is very much a family affair. A glance at the inside cover will tell you that alongside Michelle are sons Dylan, who created the artwork and design and Ryan, who undertook content research.

In the UK alone, there has a been a 20 per cent reduction in active participation in the game since 2016. Other countries have seen even more worrying decline.

From World Cup semi-finalists in 2003, Kenya finds itself barely able to raise a national team worthy of the name. The first team from Australia to play in England, was Aboriginal, way back in 1868. Today there are around 13,000 registered Aboriginal cricketers across Australia, but that figure pales against the thousands of Aboriginal footballers in Australian rules or rugby league.

Whilst cricket authorities look to the lofty issues of rights management and even the creation of new formats of the game such as the ECB's Hundred, they would do well to consider the simple power of the written word and the huge impact it can have.

Howzattt punches above its weight and has the potential to support the game's grassroots initiatives wherever it is published. With the energies of Michelle and the Lang family behind it, the cricket world may find that this one small book will have a very big impact.

Don't just take our word for it though. Why not get a copy for yourself to help cricket development round the world here.