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.