Cricket’s new test – the boom from the bottom up

Edinburgh Cricket Club juniors Isabel Smith, Ted Smith and Freddie Cole for a photo at Brunswick Street Oval in Melbourne. Photo: Wayne TaylorFour years ago Edinburgh Cricket club in Fitzroy had 17 senior and junior teams, this year they have 27. They have always had a senior women’s team but for the first time this season they have a girls team in the juniors and expect to have the numbers to field a second one after Christmas.

Last season Elsternwick Cricket Club scratched together three under-12s teams – this year they comfortably have five and almost have enough for a sixth. Brighton is in a similar position.

At Gisborne Cricket Club they can’t find enough ovals for teams to play on and nets to train in.

The Sanctuary Lakes Cricket Club formed in 2012 with two under-11 cubs teams (the modified rules competition for rookies). The club now has 100 junior players, 14 seniors, 90 kids in Milo and another 60 in T20Blast.

They have nine T20 teams making them the biggest Twenty 20 club in Melbourne’s west.

Twenty20 cricket might have killed West Indies cricket – or expedited its demise – and made for a flat summer of Test cricket, but the short game has not killed cricket.

While cricket is suffering at the top level it is booming at the bottom. This is a bottom-up resurgence.

Across Victoria the number of kids registered in MiloT20 Blast is up 73 per cent. In part, this is because it is a new event and the increase comes off a lower base than the more entrenched Milo cricket (the Auskick of cricket) but Milo cricket to is up 13 per cent too.

It is not just an urban quirk, the West Gippsland Cricket Association will also field a third more junior teams this year than last.

The success of the Australian women’s team is also having a big impact. Ellyse Perry might be as important to the resurgence of cricket as David Warner.

“We were a bit surprised when Isabel said she wanted to play but we thought it was good,” says Andy Vance of her 10-year-old daughter Isabel’s decision to join Edinburgh CC.

“She didn’t see it as a boys’ sport, she just saw it as sport, which I thought was interesting.

“That is how they approach it at the club too, which is good.”

The Eastern Cricket Association has formed the Anna Lanning Shield female competition (a bit weird, having a shield named after a 21-year-old current player) but it now has 15 teams up from five in its inaugural season last year.

Female participation across the state is up 9 per cent, and as a consequence the Victorian government has committed $10 million to help upgrade sports pavilions to make them more female friendly.

Isabel’s younger brother, Ted, was drawn to the game through Milo cricket and enjoying Twenty20 and test cricket. His teammate, Freddie Cole, is also just seven but he dons the big pads, sloppy helmet and gloves and has a hit. He is also reading Kaboom Kid, co-authored by David Warner.

Brad Shadbolt, vice-president at Edinburgh CC and a former district player, said the club had for a long time under-resourced Milo cricket.

“Since we have put time and effort into it, the growth in numbers has been staggering,” he said.

“The interest among girls is a big reason for the increase in numbers too. We added a junior girls team this year and with social media and word of mouth more girls have come down ,so we expect after Christmas to have a second junior female team.

“Hopefully next year we will have three or four junior female teams,” Shadbolt said.

Better-managed clubs, investment in Milo cricket and the growth in females playing have all been significant, says Cricket Victoria chief executive Tony Dodemaide.

To illustrate a point about Twenty20, he says avid readers do not start out by reading novels, an appropriate analogy for those who consider Twenty20 cricket cartoonish cricket, but he makes a valid point.

The introduction of rookies or cubs competitions as a bridge between plastic ball cricket and proper cricket has been an important change.

In these introductory competitions they use all the regular protective gear and a hard ball but they shorten the pitch if necessary, every player bowls for a couple of overs and batting in pairs batsmen face a few overs and don’t go out – the other side just gets five runs for a wicket. Scores are normally not kept (even if every kid remembers how many runs they made and wickets they took).

Andrew Headberry at Gisborne says while they are a growth area, like Sanctuary Lakes, the increase in numbers far exceeds just population growth.

“Our biggest growth has been in our juniors. It’s been big for five years but over the last two years it’s been massive. It’s reached the point we can’t find enough grounds to play on and nets to train in – but it’s a good problem to have,” he said.

At Sanctuary Lakes, according to Paul Pritchard, they have also been mindful of tailoring the culture of the game and not just the rules to the community

“The Point Cook area has a strong migrant population from east and south-east Asia, with people from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan joining the club.

“We are influenced by the Muslim culture of some of our players and we understand we have to cater to all of our players, so where in the past you might throw some sausages on the barbie now we are also providing halal meat and chicken.

“It’s just common sense.”

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