Vaulting forward.

The ebbs and flows of cricket admin. Presumed soppy or soapy or almost ludicrous in their becalmed niche-markethood, but sometimes challenging, dynamic – stormy even.

We’ve got big waves at the moment. In the case of the #AllStarsCricket/CricketUnleashed Projects, maybe it’s once-in-a-generation stuff, a time for courageous plunges. Or not?

Meanwhile, around the boomathon – the #T20Blast or City Franchise (or both) – there is similarly a gathering of conflicting surges. For or against the fierce carnival? Anti the lurid populism thing in principle and/or protective of the counties, or wet-suited and booted and charging teeth-bared with the contemporary tide – surfing into the cities?!?

Rarely, surely, can the knitting together of cricket in Ingerland and Wales have been so stacked with tumult? It’s almost exciting.

I go to an #AllStarsCricket Roadshow this week, committed not just out of loyalty to my employers, Cricket Wales but more because my sense is the central notion around which the campaign is constructed (that we cricketpeeps have to ‘break out of the bubble’) is undeniably valid.

There are always a zillion micro-reasons why things stall or fail or are superceded by cultural mores but the blunt truth of this is that too few people get cricket, know cricket, understand what cricket means. And the ECB are (it would seem) absolutely backing a programme designed to genuinely transform levels of contact with, familiarity with and appreciation for the game. #AllStarsCricket is absolutely about making cricket known at a different level.

This talk of ‘presence’ and ‘visibility’ inevitably leads to cynicism – if nothing else because it means we’re in the hands of Market Researchers, Salespeople and career Sports Development Officers. True that it is them who have largely built and/or co-opted the strategy. Untrue – or too simplistic – to make the assumption that there’s something un-cricket and therefore unconvincing or even suspicious about that, although there is no question that some in the game fear that research is no match for time spent in clubs or on pitches.

Dwyer’s Posse have obviously been challenged and no doubt guided by Proper Cricket People at the ECB (and yes I do think there are some. To be fair there are unquestionably cricket people from within that posse, too.)

The framework they’ve come up with hangs upon that idea that cricket functions (or malfunctions) in too small a sector of the population; the bubble is simply too feeble and too small. By implication it is also probably too similar (and too conservative?) to be viable, to be healthy, to feel right, to be attractive in 2017 and beyond. So #AllStarsCricket is about vaulting forward, about increasing numbers simply by exposing more 5-8 year-old youngsters to the game.

The jargonistas talk rather dangerously of ‘winning the battle for the playground’, something I – as a lover of many sports – feel (as we tend to say these days) conflicted about.  I hear the message but think it unnecessarily provocative. I’m in playgrounds alongside rugby coaches or tennis coaches and whilst I am motivated to be the fabbest sportingest bloke my particular dollop of kids have ever come across, this is non-adversarial; I’m neither looking to oust nor undermine any other sport.

In fact, what happens at clubs is more key to the success of #AllStarsCricket than the gathering of the new gang through Primary Schools. I don’t, aim to get into the methodology of all this right now, more the frisson or the philosophy; this may change after I hear more from the ECB in midweek.

Questions, of course, remain. About how clubs will cope, how activators will work, about the quality of coaching and how ASC sits with existing coaches. Most crucially the issue (pointedly felt here in rural West Wales) around how many families will fork out the proposed wedge needed to sign up. But because I totally get that loads of kids need to know who the England captain is (and want to be him or her) I’m in – well in.

We all know that ideally a raft of things should be in place, from free-to-air cricket on telly to fabulous, appealing kit. We have also clocked that this is not Australia. However, having slung the pros and cons (and ill-disciplined metaphors) around the room, around my head for some months, the weight of water behind #AllStarsCricket – investment from ECB, doubling up of Chance2Shine resources – suggest this will be really powerful. That once-in-a-generation monster-wave thing is sounding convincingly BIG: it needs to be irresistible.

Over the weekend a couple of stories have emerged, coincidentally, I imagine, which may suggest that the relentless flow towards city-based cricket may yet be held up.

Firstly Freddie Flintoff – a man who does have a meaningful hinterland and still an active role in the game – came out very forcefully in favour of an admittedly improved, counties-based T20. He made an argument that does have some support and some credence: essentially that #T20Blast wasn’t a million miles off the tournament we need and that fans (Proper Fans?) are (or would be) loyal to their county in a more profound way than they would be to cities across their cultural boundaries. Scousers won’t support a Manchester Marauders – but they would get behind Lancs.  Most of Yorkshire (like the rest of the universe) ‘all ‘ate Leeds and Leeds and Leeds.’

Freddie is right with some of this. Tribal is beautiful.

Then we learn (admittedly via The Mail, which o-kaaay, hardly counts) that an allegedly significant majority of current pro players want to retain that link with the 18 counties into the new era of T20. (Previously it had seemed that the noise was more in favour of the BBL-style city thrash). This is news.  This is heartening to those of us who accept that white ball cricket is going to be key but not that an entirely new audience must overwhelmingly benefit from our attention, to the detriment (or worse) of County Cricket.

I’m sketching again. But what feels true is that dizzyingly crazy waves are slapping around us. It would be easy to pitch in – either through carelessness, or over-ambition, or lack of that steady hand. Who would have thought that so many defining moments could be piled up so high, so tightly?

Being a do-er, not an organiser, I confess to a(n) habitual lack of sympathy for them stuck in the office. Right now I don’t envy the pen-pushers their choices. Let them be bold and also sagacious.

What’s in a name?

A B de Villiers: great name.  Smacks, to us Brits, of something powerfully and maybe romantically other, something distinctive, emphatic and emphatically South African – whatever that means.  But is it simply that de that’s effecting a statement somewhere between the territorial and the unapologetically forward? Why is that name working in the way it does?

Blimey.  Possibly dangerous ground.  Not going anywhere near the complex/unfortunate/shamefully traumatic political stuff.  Just hold with that question about what it is that trammels up the feeling, the expectation, the response to that name.

This may be ridiculous.  How we receive a human’s label obviously depends upon a zillion cultural mores (or lesses) and how that name now conjures with us is contingent upon what we know about the bearer of that flag of peace, war, convenience, whatever.  In this case we’re plainly talking ’bout a prodigiously talented sportsman who happens to cart those two words (one and a bit?) round on the back of his cricket shirt(s). So it’s simple – right?

It’s simple in that we are denied the possibility for doubt or equivocation, with de Villiers.  He is rare, he is typically majestic – or that’s the picture over the years.  Whether you’re from Transvaal or Tranmere you get that he’s a bona fide worldie.

This becomes interesting (to me) because of recent events – and I’m not just thinking the withdrawal from upcoming Tests, although clearly this has been the trigger.  The notion that the impregnable de Villiers brand – speaking incontrovertibly of expressive, somehow lusty brilliance – flirts now just a little with human frailties, with ‘management’, with (if not indecision) then with compromise, feels frankly a little de-flating.  (Soz.)

Granted some will argue that A B de Villiers has chosen to go a certain route – namely to play IPL, miss a lot of international cricket, then target a return against India and Australia.  Granted also there are complications beyond his control re- an elbow injury demanding surgery; plus that great unknowable around motivation appears to be increasingly relevant.

But I am sensing more fogginess than clarity, more difficulty than direction .  So where is de Villiers at… and what’s occurring around his imprint, his quality of presence, his reputation?

In interview with ESPNcricinfo yesterday, the theme of essential ‘time away’ loomed so large as to make some of us a little concerned – for a couple of reasons.

A) because it’s disconcerting to see a magnificent athlete of the alpha-male variety looking just a little lost.

B) because (selfishly) I’d rather all the best players committed to all the Tests they can.

As an innocent and pret-ty unbiased bystander, one interpretation of current de Villierdom might reasonably be that he’s just finding that work/life/family life balance thing tough to manage because, largely, he has simply, maybe temporarily, stopped enjoying playing.  Which is a proper shame: which also smacks of some degree of loss, or retreat?

It may be reckless to throw too many assumptions at this. This particular guy – every particular guy, or gal – has every right to dip out, now and then, to take stock, to replenish.  Fair play, de Villiers has been open if not fulsome on that.

The upshot or fallout from the interview is

A)  We may not know exactly why he’s breaking from series A or B but we are feeling his need.

B)  We can’t know what’s really, really in his mind – maybe he doesn’t?

The result (or one of them) is indulgence of this sort – cod psychology, if you will – and/or extrapolations around themes: patriotism(!), frailty(?), great or despicable career management, falls from grace.  Oh and worry about the impact on Test Cricket.

Our own need to speculate is inevitable, given de Villier’s profile and his brilliance and the suspicion that there is a story there: whether we treat that story respectfully or gather it up into those fears around the threats to Test Cricket is another matter.

I’ll stop just short of that.  I’ll mention in passing the concern I have that the adrenalin-pull and financial clout of white ball cricket is a kind of drain, as well as an Absolute Blast – certainly when viewed from the traditionalists’ prism.  Whilst I really don’t consider myself as being from that wing of the game, I do absolutely regret both that energy-sapping schedules and players opting for short rather than longer form cricket may be undermining Tests.

Hype is arguably of its nature draining (I imagine) – perhaps particularly when expectation is so heavily loaded upon you, oh starry individual.  If you smash the fastest century ever (say) and generally perform to swashbucklingly boomtastic levels then not only are you riding an ecstatic wave but you are risking humiliating wipe-out. I think maybe I am momentarily fascinated (but it will pass) by the idea that the hike into T20 form and format mitigates towards exhilaration and exhaustion.  A hypothesis that feels kinda seductive… but sounds a moment later like utter cobblers.

A B de Villiers is a cricket titan; an icon, a giant, a genius, a worldie.  He has both that sumptuous, natural sportsman thing going on and the intellectual/technical wherewithal back up the gift.

Go find a youtube training vid and you’ll likely find him explaining his method, involving engaging the core by hitting late, under the eyes, within the imaginary box he visualises as an extension of his body.  It’s as though he’s allowing the ball entry into his system, his aura, before some wonderful coiled reflex propels it with both violence and control to the glorious horizon.

This way of things seems to embody not so much his hitting strategy as his personal confidence.  Waiting (when possible) rather than reaching – and then striking with formidable power.  It’s a method full of belief.

The name A B de Villiers may be cursed I guess, by South Africans who think they are more patriotic than him.  Who think he’s either gone soft or gotten greedy.  Who wheel out theories over bat contracts or bad karma.

Strikes me we don’t know if there’s a cynical plan in place here or simply that slightly heart-string-tugging plea for a break.  Much of the rest is baggage – inevitable, surely given The Age and the extraordinary quality of the talent.  He’s a Big Name Player in a luridly curious world.

I cannot be clear (and therefore am not making the case) that de Villiers has sold his soul to some vulgar idol; after all, he says he aims to battle for a Test place in a year or so’s time.  I am also unsure if I have the right to feel disappointed – but I do.

Presumably that’s because I feel protective of Test Cricket and I worry a bit about who else might go opting out?  Because we can’t afford to lose too many de Villiers, eh?

This is what we want.

  • for the cricket to be good
  • for girls to play – like shedloads of them
  • for the sun to shine – really
  • for (somebody like?) Mark Wood to stay fit then take International Test Cricket by storm, or signal it’s ok, for Anderson then Broad to slip into the past
  • …or, maybe just have competitive equals.
  • Also for Cummins and Starc to stay fit, bowl incredibly fast, entertain the universe but be tamed by Hameed, Jennings & Rooooot, when *that time comes*.
  • In a slightly greedy-personal way, I want the whole #AllStarsCricket/#CricketUnleashed thing to really, really transform the profile of cricket in the next two years, so that more people simply get it
  • because it’s worth getting, right, but currently there IS a smallish, arguably fairly narrow range of people who are kinda culturally-familiar with the game, so we do have to commit to something bubble-breakingly ambitious. I think that revolutionary moment is nearly upon us and I hope our commitment is kosher. Tweaking rules or formats is all very well but we have to get to more people in AS WELL.
  • So that mission. I’m proud and excited to be part of all that but c’mon, let’s all get on it?
  • On the T20 thing let’s resolve the City v Counties issue in such a way that County Cricket really benefits. Not good to have a spectacular, ‘world-class’ City T20 that further closes the door on the traditional form (which is maybe dead in the water without T20blast money?) Can’t see how two UK boomathons can co-exist, myself, so this feels like MAJOR. Major comprises, major, generous, philosophically-informed as well as commercially-driven conversations. Let’s be avvin um.
  • I would also like to play cricket… but there’s no realistic chance of that. So maybe contribute elsewhere. Coaching, social media-ing, writing. Try not to think about the pleasure of running in or fluking the occasional cover drive. In fact stop thinking about that RIGHT NOW. Work to do.
  • On the tribal front, I want a better year for Glamorgan. The fella Croft will know he needs to feed more successfully off the goodwill and bourgeoning welshnesses in and around his developing squad, because the times conspire against patience. Great that he’s actively promoting and supporting homegrown players – and I’m told that Huw Morris should also take a lot of credit for this – but clearly results must improve. Lots of us are heartened by (for example) the offer of a 3 year contract (and the security that offers) to young off-spinner Andrew Salter and by Van der Gugten’s emergence but as somebody said re another, similarly competitive industry, ‘goals pay the rent’. On the short-format front, I personally enjoyed Dai Steyn’s run-outs at The SSE Swalec and the form of his compatriot Colin Ingram and of Aneurin Donald. I think I have starts in the night, mind, around the first of those two batsmen being tempted away by a large, hairy cheque. The local lad we imagine will stay and build a wonderful welsh story…
  • Back at England level I think we are actually half-decent. We just can’t compete with India on their patch. Of course this isn’t acceptable… and we have to look at ways to get better.
  • With my Elderish Statesman wiv Worldview head on, I still wonder if there isn’t something frankly unintelligent about the drive for ‘positive cricket’ (in Tests, in particular) or at least the relentlessness of the pursuit of it. It feels ridiculous not to have real game awareness ahead of the need to fight back aggressively or ‘express yourself/back yourself’ at all times. Been mentioned before but there’s a significant clue in the label here: Test Cricket. It’s not about swapping macho gestures – although we accept absolutely that bravado or boldness will play a part. Often it’s about patience, playing within yourself, seeing things out, as opposed to needing to express some weird domination throughout every moment. This is a contest over time and that’s beautiful, unique, crafty, cerebral, tense-in-a-different way. We all get that young athletes wanna be sexy and strong – stronger than their oppo’s – but sometimes it’s dumb and counter-productive to fall for that as An Approach. It may be tempting, in a bullish cohort of Fit Young Things, to go the easy way of expressing superiority through spunkiness but hello-o you don’t have to be a reactionary retard to make the argument that this may be simplistic nonsense unworthy of high-grade sport… which demands intelligence as well as testosterone.
  • There, I did it. Got struck off David Warner’s Christmas Card list. And Michael Vaughan’s. And everyone under thirty.
  • Final word on that Culture Of thing. Get absolutely that dynamism is central to impact/saleability/maybe growth. But drama is not always poptastic and colorifically-enhanced: sometimes it’s symphonic, ma’an.
  • So I want the Wider Game to be looked after. I’m bit suspicious of the race to funkier kit – essential though that may be. I want County and Test Cricket to dig in or be propped up until we’ve kappowed that bubble of limitations and shown everybody what an extraordinary, diverse, exciting game we have. The range of possibilities, of intrigues are maybe a language that must be learned – and therefore they may demand unfashionable levels of attention – but draw folks in and make them welcome and hallelujah! Something great happens. Longer forms are worth supporting not just for sentimental reasons but because they are essential to the romance on the one hand and the learning or skill-acquisition on the other. Tests and County Cricket must be sympathetically nuanced til crowds are meaningful and/or income from the ECB or telly or T20 action means there is a secure place for the next Baby Boycs as well as the next Ben Stokes.
  • That’s all I ask
  • except, naturally, for an absurdly fit-again Dai Steyn to come steaming in from the Cathedral Rd End / an absolute production-line of great welsh cricketers / a regular & successful & appreciated slot for Andrew Salter / a mindblowing series of tons from Nye Donald…

Changing Rooms.

We end the year with more icons falling. Some mean more or less everything, in the moment, others slip away with minimal trauma. But the thing of The Event surely grows. Celebrity. The pull or dazzle of The Stars.

We all have our theories on this – and our judgements. One such might be that it’s inevitable and bad, that t’internet-led, halogen-quality, dumb-kaleidoscope-in-a-bad-way ‘behaviours’ have somehow infested our consciousness or swamped and smothered it into juvenile mush. We can’t think, can’t judge, can only follow or wallow.

That’s pretty much my view. Or maybe the view (as it were) from my gut.

It’s tempting to describe what we’re up to generally as both massively better-informed and largely stoopider and stoopider, right? Everybody has the capacity to know everything but somehow we got criminally dumber. How did we stumble into this full-on malaise-fest? We’ve gotten clouds when we need lasers.

If we cared to ratchet in one notch we might be forced to contemplate some yet more incriminating failure to not only assimilate readily-available knowledge, but fall utterly for sleazeball grades of prejudice around the simplest of issues; like goodness and badness, for example. Thus things become twisted, as well as or instead of being learned. We maybe got dumber and less moral, then?

This is quite a legacy for the year we’re talking here.

Going no further with this – not here or now. It’s merely the context for my own re-gathering of certainties, or maybe impulses I feel confident about. Confident enough to call them healthy – healthy and true.

Asitappens I work in sport. So the notion that we are subsiding into an entirely brain-dead, sedentary state in which we trawl in the wake of endless Lowest Common Denominators, whilst being familiar to me, is emphatically hoofed or carved or chased to the touchline. Yup there’s worrying dollops of lard-arsed acquiescence out there but there is also brilliance and sharpness and anticipation – refreshing, glorious movement.

And yes there is that twin evil(?) obesity – clearly inextricably linked to shocking diet (and yes, poverty and/or ignorance) plus lack of activity – but there is also invincible energy, around sport, around activity for pleasure.

We know in the case of children they simply don’t play in the way we did – certainly not out of school hours. We might also fear that they don’t charge about enough IN school, with time and place for Physical Education squeezed by the moronic pressures towards ‘targets’. Yet I am here to tell you, dear friends, that it is extremely likely your kids or grandkids will meet somebody inspiring and fit and playful during their time at Primary School.  They will be offered the game.

It’s clearly the business of folks like me to inspire them towards a particular sport – mine being cricket. But over a quiet pint most of us would confess to being more than happy to see children fall for the other tracksuited fella/other woman’s game.   To me there’s no contradiction in trying to be the fabbest, funniest and most inspiring sports coach Kid A will see at his or her school and being deebloodylighted when it turns out they’ve chosen regular rugby over regular cricket. Kids simply must do something.

I can, will and do make the case for team sport in particular because for me the craic and the learning are special. But this doesn’t mean I dismiss climbing, or surfing, or tennis – they’re ace too. However here’s a couple of thoughts, drawn absolutely from the most profound and wonderful experiences of my life, on why team sports.

Before we plough excitedly but sincerely on, a minor warning. Please read the next paragraph without being distracted by admittedly important and current news stories; I’m serious and it ain’t gonna work if you drift.

Dressing Rooms –Changing Rooms! – are places where real magic stirs. Of course, there have often been a zillion stages of learning or skills development before we get to playing matches but Proper Matches are it. The occasion around matches – the psychology, the camaraderie, the deep learning, the growth.

I understand the need for caution around all this Real Sport Is stuff. In fact I seem to spend half my life writing or working against what I tend to call dumb machismo. So this is not going to be some bullish cry for tribal aggression masquerading as ‘liberation’. Read on, reassured, people…

I spend most of my working life committed to non-competitive games or making games about inclusion – literally the sharing of the sport – as well as cricket skills, communication, activity, etc. So I am not some brutalist blokey-donkey equating sport with winning. But there IS another level for sport where powerfully human things get tested. Provided things are in place to make this kind of game work, it is or can be one our species’ great achievements.

In Changing Rooms I learned that the young lads I played cricket/football/rugby with were different but all brilliant. The hooligans were brilliant; the swots and the comedians were brilliant.

Those that knew or feared that they were destined for drudgery expressed their finer wits – fact! – around the game. Sure, they battled but they were also funnier than most comedians: or they were subtle or creative or electrifying on the park. A lad not blessed with academic precision counted exactly the 73 ‘fucks’ in the managers team-talk. Or Owen Roberts sent us out to ‘represent our region and our friends’ ten feet tall.

Through laughter and sometimes through grit and graft, we players came to value each other. Don’t tell me now that brickies or forklift-truck drivers are mugs: in Changing Rooms I learned otherwise. I’m rooted in this.

Though I’m hardly immune to the distractions of the twittersphere or (via my children) the instagram generation, and though I mourn the insidious omnipresence of all that is vacuous or ‘starry’ or sold to me by Keepemdown Multinational Corporation, I know some key stuff. I know sport. I know it’s profound as well as fun.

So when the universe feels overloaded with either junk or fakery; when things seem to conspire against intelligence or truth; when you want a real, genuine laugh – the kind that is undeniable and life-affirming – maybe just go play. Could even be that engaging in sport (because it typically defies prejudice?) is a progressive riposte to political and/or philosophical post-truths? Like that as a thought? Or that freeing up the spirit tends to be, or is facilitative of an act of protest?

Maybe these are my reasons. Maybe I think life is wonderful because even in our dumbness, we change – we run a bit, perhaps? – and we are brilliant.

Small Country.

You may not know John Derrick but you will know John Derrick. Ours is the one who played for Glamorgan and Aberdare and who coached well, most of us in Wales, either as players or coaches ourselves, or both.

All of which sounds pretty bland. Like he’s just some ordinary bloke – which of course he is. But 500 people gathered at the SSE Swalec Stadium last night to honour and support this fella, suggesting there may be more, more of a story here. There is.

John has been poorly – frankly rather alarmingly so – having recently undergoing chemotherapy following an op to remove a brain tumour (I think).

(The truth is that those of us that love him to bits but don’t want to intrude too heavily into deeply private matters have inevitably ‘just heard’ a few things and not wanted to push too hard for details we fear may be distressing for family members to hear or describe. I think – it’s my understanding that – we can fairly describe John’s status as recovering… between bouts of chemo and awaiting an important review in the New Year.)

But back to the Swalec and last night. 500 people, many thousands of pounds raised to support JD and his family through tough times. Important but maybe (with all due respect) less important than the feeling.

Proper writers and proper writing swerves the sentimental but forgive me if I dip below the accepted standards in my scuttling after truths on this. A) I generally do and b) this really is about love, not money.

JD – as he is almost universally known – is a fabulous bear of a bloke. He is a smiler, a banterer, a real authority but no demagogue. If I say he is no orator, this too is a deep compliment, John being neither a maker of speeches nor a poseur or player-to-the-crowds. John is a player and a coach; he says stuff – good stuff – and folks listen.

Given the nature of JD’s  work, at Glamorgan Cricket, developing and overseeing Wales’s prime talent, it’s maybe important that the man has credibility in spadeloads. John is a Level 4 coach and as well as being massively skilled and experienced in cricket theory, he can demonstrate with the best of them.

One of the seminal moments of my own coaching development (hah! Such as it is!) came through watching John bat. During one of several JD-led workshops that I have attended, he creamed an endless serious of beautiful cover and off drives to the walls of a leisure centre in deepest Pembs. It was ridiculous; it was remarkable; it was educational. Something profound about stillness landed – stillness of the heart at the centre of some poetic whirl. John edited down the coaching of this phenomenon to a nonchalant point at his supremely immobilised bonce accompanied by a single, key-but-understated word. ‘Head’.

So yeh, John is one of those guys who can do it. You’d follow him – you’d want to. He has that rare gift of being great company – blokey, funny, slightly mischievous – and reflective, authoritative. (Often the former qualities get in the way of those latter ones, right?)

Built strongly, with powerful limbs and an arse the size Divine Comedy’s small country – that’s JD. Talented, yes; likeable immediately, loved and respected once known.

Last night they/we crowded in to show we rate him. The great and good and the brilliant – that third category including former Eng player and selector Geoff Miller, who ‘spoke’ magnificently and hilariously but was also visibly touched and proud to be able to support.

Phil Steele and Robert Croft also made notable, generous contributions to the evening’s entertainment. Jokes and stories were shared, stuff was sold or auctioned. All the accoutrements of a do of this nature were in place … plus that something else I hope you, at your club, maybe, or in your own way, have experienced. Goodwill of the very highest order.

I was there. In the building – table 16 – of about 50-odd. All of us feeling something poignant and wonderful and important. Something (with all due respect) more profound and nourishing than the significant pile of moolah we raised. Something well-earned and personal, something ab-so-lutely centred… around our own outstanding bloke. John Derrick.

 

Unleash for real.

Things need to be authentic. Or they do if they’re placed in front of fans and connoisseurs. People in the know judge levels of realness and commitment brutally – because they understand. They know when something is ‘wheeled out’; when it’s a token, a faff, a sop or ‘something dreamed up’ to in some way appease.

If you happen to be a governing body, with the popularity of the average Chancellor, mid second term, there will be suspicion around pretty much whatever you do. Throw in some fabulous, fanatical disproportion amongst your opposition – in this case the average County Cricket fan, obsessed perhaps with protecting the game as he or she understands it – and the last thing you can afford to do is project equivocation. Folks will know you for a fraud.

In this context, the ECB, rightly or wrongly bitterly criticised or characterised as myopic, dubiously-motivated and alienated from us Great Unwashed, need to be conscious of the dangers of rolling out allegedly earth-moving programmes, unless they are clear-eyed, legitimate, committed ventures that people buy into.

So now is a Big Moment. My understanding (as a Community Coach for Cricket Wales) is that we are moving into the #CricketUnleashed era, which includes;

a) the doubling of funding for @Chance2Shine in Oct 2017 and

b) the All Stars Cricket project, taking this traditional, middle-class summer game onto an Entirely New Level in terms of its profile in society at large, via masses of activity in the 5-8 years age-group.

c) loads more in the way of strategy for the recreational… and the professional game.

Ok.  I am personally involved in bigging up the step-change; hoping to deliver some tiddly portion of it(!)  There are naturally certain pressures towards being loyal to both Cricket Wales and the paternal behemoth, the ECB.  Let me eyeball you whilst I repeat that I’m aware of those factors but not driven by them.  I may not be the most reliable of sources on this but… bear with, bear with. Things to say and they aren’t all straight out of the corporation’s sales pitch.

My strong impression is that the ECB, having recruited Matt Dwyer, the dynamic Aussie changer-of-where-we’re-ats, have fully got the need for ambition and for transforming energy.  Have no idea how the conversations have sounded – would love to have been involved – but I believe we’ve gotten to the point where the talking is done and the action really, really starts.  Because (even?) the ECB knows that it must.

There is an acknowledgement that cricket must break through the bubble in which it exists. Rather than just welcoming in (or allowing in?) the current maximum of 30% of the universe that *might possibly* experience cricket, these new measures seek to emphatically burst through to children (and then therefore ideally their families) previously simply beyond our reach. The central ambition of All Stars Cricket is to place the game in playgrounds and clubs and conversations on a different level.  Meaning simply making the game more popular – facilitating that through resources, imagination and a hopefully irresistible bundle of energy.

I get that there may be fears and suspicions around this heady populism. Might it be the natural bedfellow or precursor to gaudy, dumbed-down cricket experiences?  I’m thinking no.  I’m thinking it’s just a way to get folks – more children, new children, actually – hooked into the game. What happens beyond that regarding formats/culture etc etc is powerfully important but maybe powerfully irrelevant to this capturing new kids (#AllStarsCricket) moment.

A brief conclusion.  Reckon this site has proved I am up for debating competitive tests, Day/Night Tests/the meaning of all of this/everything. Hope you can trust me to avoid complete capitulation to the corporate message – despite my obvious allegiances. Really want you to hear again that I am pumped and re-energised, because I think the Cricket Unleashed thing is for real.  But we’ll see.  It’ll have to be.

Ready or not.

I’m both well-placed and dangerously poised on the @Chance2Shine @ECB story. Being a part of the Cricket Wales Community Team – being one of the coaches who actually go do stuff.

My interest is (as Blackadder might say) more vested than a very vested thing. My job as a Community Coach may be more secure as a result of the hike in investment. My hours may go up. But best not say too much, eh? Best not pre-empt anything or count too many chance2shiny eggs?

If you missed it/them, here are some factoids. The ECB, that fascinatingly soft target/that suddenly inspired and dynamic force for good/that bunch of Old Farts (delete according to prejudice or experience) has stumped up a significantly bigger wedge of moolah for schools cricket. More specifically, it has committed to a doubling of the funds invested in Chance2Shine, whose principal mission is to get professional cricket coaches into state schools.

I’m not party to the detail on this; for example I simply do not know, at this point, how much dosh Cricket Wales might get (if any) or how much of that money will go into an increase in coaching. Could be that the CEO of Cricket Wales doesn’t yet know this – partly because this additional money doesn’t come in until October 2017 and partly because (I imagine) high-level discussions around percentages of this and that are still going on. However (and despite acknowledging it’s kindof eeeeeasy and maybe tempting to be cynical about cycles or changing notions of what’s mega, or essential, or how the brand must be) I’m buzzing.

Buzzing because it does feel like there’s a will to really change something. Because (again, accepting that I am neither independent nor proportionate on any of this) I know what we’re offering kids in schools is pret-ty damn good on a zillion levels. It’s loaded with giggles; it’s profoundly developmental; it’s a gateway. All that but maybe more importantly now, it may well be there, for most children.

Cricket in the playground, in the hall, in yer face. Daft, friendly, skilled and yes, often inspiritational people building cricket games, with you, Danny… and Sarah… and everybody! Cricket exposed – #unleashed on all of you – ready or not.

Great and possibly revealing that we may have an Aussie to thank for this, the ECB having poached the bloke who led Cricket Australia’s own transformation. Encouragingly, despite his radical ideas around shamelessly large-ing up the presence, the boomtastic child-relevance of sleepy ole cricket, blow me if the ECB haven’t actually listened to the man. And then they’ve backed him.

Consequently Matt Dwyer, new ECB Director of Participation and Growth finds himself driving something real and weighty and meaningful – and maybe even thrilling- rather than faffing about in some simulator. It appears there is actually a thing, quite possibly a revolutionary thing. Let’s hope.

There are arguments about what cricket needs to do, of course. Whether upping the profile in Primary Schools and supporting and readying clubs for an influx of bouncy kids is really the Golden Bullet. Whether recognition of stars and role-models is gonna happen without free-to-air telly. Whether the ECB should be quadrupling this money to truly transform levels of closeness to the game and its elite protagonists. There are arguments.

But – as with Climate Change – there is a consensus which recognises a need for action. Unlike that other seminal issue for the day, our Powers That Be appear to have processed the understanding that there is a need to act into (yaknow) taking action… which is almost shocking.

Maybe some of the suspicion around the ECB/Chance2Shine plans is a function of deep, existential surprise – or maybe some residual entanglement with the necessary but debilitatingly polarising T20 debate? Could simply be that folks just can’t get their heads around the fact that the ECB may be on an inspirational charge here, boldly re-inventing themselves, as well as our sport. This is not, traditionally, what old white blokes in blazers do.

Apparently one of the game-changers was the revelation, via research, that many more children knew who John Cena was (WWE wrestler, c’mon, catch up!) than knew the Test skipper of England cricket.

I can see this might or arguably should resonate powerfully with those looking to critically assess the state of the game, so will only mention in passing that Alistair Cook’s almost complete absence of charisma might be a factor in this. I accept the view that cricket needs to get brutally frank with itself but tentatively maybe dangle out the concern that research may be flawed, or open to interpretation, or a weirdly self-validating end in itself, on occasion. Whatever, the case for cricket being a minor sport in the minds of young british children, is proven: meaning action.

I hope there is close to a doubling in the number of sessions us coaches get to hold in Primary Schools. I hope this is the crux of it – increased cash, increased cricket. I have no doubt at all that masses of kapow and run in the playground will result in masses of converts to the game.

The target group appears to be five to eight year-old boys and girls, presumably to migrate them, eyes sparkling and hearts a-thrum, to either festival activity or lovely, lively, rewarding action at a local club. The headline intention is (amongst other things) to ‘win the battle of the playgrounds’.

This is bold. This is so bold it’s kinda controversial. Adversarial. The ECB implying (saying?) it’s gunning for other sport’s territory. The ECB frothing rather dangerously and magnificently with belief. The ECB strutting.

I’m nearly too old to be pumped – but I’m pumped for this. The idea that cricket can play a central part in the consciousness of the next generation. That brilliant cricket coaches – of whom I know many – can influence profoundly not just the recreational lives but also (honestly) the levels of engagement and achievement of hundreds of thousands of young people at their place of learning.

Madly ambitious? ‘ Course. But if a further shedload of us are unleashed into schools you better look out.

People, I’m pro-sport rather than tribal-adversarial. I know rugby or football or tennis guys or gals can do important, inspiring work the way that we cricketpeeps can.

Forgive me though, if I’m not hoopla-ing their thing right now. This is cricket’s moment. We deserve it; we’ve been equipping ourselves for years to deliver something liberating, challenging, growing, exciting. It’s outright fabulous that thanks to the ECB – and to Chance2Shine – we might now really get to hit out. Freely.

Remember that?