Short pitch: Girl Guides cricket
While England were taking another step towards limited overs rehabilitation in the Twenty20 international at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, two tram stops to the south, there was another potential breakthrough taking place.
Recreational cricket in the UK is suffering a decline in participation. A priority action to address and reverse that decline has to be the encouragement of greater involvement of girls and women. At my local club, we had well-founded hopes that this could be the year that girls cricket takes off. A university women’s player has been running weekly training sessions; our club development officer is working in the borough’s junior schools; co-operation has been agreed between clubs in the area who are trying to establish girls cricket sections to enter joint teams in the county league; and we have the dedication of one of the club’s most experienced volunteer coaches.
Despite those good intentions and better actions, the girls membership has not increased. Raising teams for the competitive fixtures – for ourselves and the opposition – has become no easier. Murmurs that it’s a doomed enterprise, have been heard.
The challenge, I felt, was how to get a large group of girls to experience cricket in a friendly, unpressurised environment. From that large group, there may be a proportion who want to return to play again. A possible solution came to me recently when dining with friends, one of whom is a girl guide leader. With the help of my guiding friend and her colleague, we arranged for the whole group to come to the club for an evening of cricket activities.
So, on Tuesday night, three volunteer coaches, our development officer and an under 15 girls cricketer, who has completed a cricket activator course at school, gathered to greet the guides. The weather, on mid-summer’s eve, was warm and bright; the ground looked in peak condition.
The guides started arriving and the noise level increased. The guide leader raised her arm and there was quiet. We took over. Thirty girls, divided into three groups, took turns at a bowling activity, a fielding game and a batting contest. When one activity ended, the guides ran to the next station, where they peppered us with questions, before throwing themselves with a great sense of fun into whichever task was set.
After an hour and a quarter, parents arrived and we realised we had run out of time for what would have been the evening’s climax: a continuous cricket match. That we agreed, could happen next time. The guides were given details about joining the club and we will see if any take up the offer. Even if none do, then we have forged a relationship with another group in our community, who can help us in the future make girls cricket a thriving activity.
At Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, England nearly set a record for their margin of victory in a T20 international. Several miles south, we may have had records set for quantity of laughter and number of handstands on a cricket field.
Some of the girls said to us, “my brother plays here,” which shows they came thinking of cricket as a ‘boy’s game’. We may have moved them onto considering it to be a ‘girl’s game’. One day, we want cricket to be just ‘a game’.