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There are always a zillion micro-reasons why things stall or fail or are superceded by cultural mores but the blunt truth of this is that too few people get cricket, know cricket, understand what cricket means.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.