Club cricketers in Britain are gathering for their first nets or practice matches of the 2012 season. These get-togethers will, for the vast majority, be reunions of cricketers who played alongside each other last season and maybe seasons before that. New faces – acquisitions from other clubs, students and others new to town and even overseas professionals – will be a small minority.
Club cricket, as part of a conservative sport, finds its place firmly on the right-wing. Its continuity is a strength. Bonds are strong, which is seen in the hours of free time given to every club’s running. Here are two examples of the dynastic core of club cricket that are local to me. My Over 40s league season ended with a match against opponents whose opening pair are father and son. Amongst my team, the Silverbacks, we have sired the following active members of our junior section: two under nines, one under ten, three under elevens, one under twelve, one under thirteen and one under fifteen. It is not inconceivable that some will play veterans cricket for the club. I expect most to play senior cricket within five years. And if we, the Dads, can’t hold a place in the team alongside them, we’ll be circling the boundary and boosting bar profits. It’s not to be knocked: repeat custom is a sound business model.
There are, of course, dangers. The blogger Silly mid off wrote recently in Pom Africans and posh lads about the background of the current England Test team. Public school boys (including Stuart Broad, pictured above with father and sister) and South Africans accounted for nine of the eleven who played the final test of the 2011 English summer. Anderson and Swann were the state school products and both of these benefited from strong links to local clubs. If cricket isn’t to be a pursuit exclusively of those brought up in warmer climes, the privately educated and the club dynasties, it must penetrate our non-cricketing families.
However, there is an attitude in club cricket and amongst its junior coaches that blunts efforts to penetrate those families. I have heard it at my own club’s AGM (and I will trumpet our excellence in junior cricket development shortly) and from the county association’s coaches delivering a training course to budding volunteer coaches.
The attitude is encapsulated in this phrase “glorified babysitting”. The criticism levelled at parents who drop their kids off at cricket practice or matches and then disappear until the session or game is due to end is that they are taking advantage of the club. These parents, it is argued, see the club’s services as nothing more than “glorified babysitting”.
Cricket doesn’t need every player’s parents to love the game. It needs more players.
Cricket’s charms are oblique, exclusive and won’t be to everybody’s taste. Hours watching an activity poorly understood will be weighed against other things a parent could do: supermarket shopping, spending time with another child, having coffee with a friend. As long as they pay the subs and pick up their child on time, this preference shouldn’t be viewed with disdain. In fact, here is an opportunity.
Cricket clubs that can embrace the function of babysitting will thrive. They will draw more broadly from their local community, expanding their gene pool and ultimately create more ‘cricketing families’. My local club understands this and is a Chance to Shine award winner for its project to bring cricket to local primary schools. But as well as running games lessons in school hours, the club’s development officer holds after-school clubs and school holiday sports clubs, both of which give relief to working parents or Mums and Dads with other stuff to attend to. Club members make use of this glorified babysitting, and so do parents with no connection to the club, but who might be drawn in when their child raves about the great time they have had. And the development officer has his eye open for the child with a natural swing, a good eye or a strong shoulder.
Any large club can achieve the same. What else could be done to continue the renewal of our cricketing stock? Is a cricket Free School, the Government’s policy for new community-based schools, out of reach?