Must T20 be embraced to ensure survival of club game?
THE format of the club game could be set for a revolution as a consistent player drain continues to put the future of the grassroots game in doubt.
Simon Prodger, the managing director at the National Cricket Conference, tells The Cricket Paper that 2017 has been another tough year at cricket’s lower end, with many clubs finding it increasingly difficult to run the number of sides that they once routinely did.
With more and more cricketers – both young and old – believing themselves to be increasingly time-poor and unable to commit their time to regular Saturday cricket, Prodger fears that the length of games, particularly lower down the cricket league pyramid, will continue to drop.
Leading to the very real prospect of T20 cricket becoming the flagship format for the club game. Most purists would find that repugnant but it’s an indication of just how tough things have become for clubs across the country.
“The pressures and challenges of trying to keep club cricket alive haven’t changed,” he says. “There are huge problems at the lower end but that’s no less important and relevant than the higher end.
“Sunday cricket continues to disappear and there are more and more considerations and possible reviews of the recreational game in terms of the length of cricket we should play.
“All these things are up for debate as part of the ECB strategy moving forward. It would be extreme to say that T20 would be the dominant form of the game at the lower end of club cricket but the environment of club cricket has changed so much that it can’t be discounted.
“Conceivably, if people continue to feel that they’re increasingly time poor, we could see a situation where 20 overs becomes the ‘normal’ game. If young people are coming into the game on that premise then you could see that being the staple of the recreational game.”
That would represent perhaps the biggest shakeup of the club game in over 200 years but if the alternative is the continuing fall in playing numbers and, as a direct result, club numbers, then some might undoubtedly view this as being the least worst option.
These fears, of course, are nothing new, with the club game having come under increasing threat in recent years. The widespread restructuring of local leagues has been largely designed to cut down travelling distances in a bid to encourage more players to continue their club careers.
And Prodger predicts that there will be greater consolidation of clubs across the country if player numbers don’t rise significantly.
“I think the big clubs will stay big but a lot of smaller clubs will fall by the wayside,” says Prodger. “When clubs do fold, it’s pretty well proven that a fair number of players don’t find another club but simply give up the game altogether.
“We’ve seen a lot of clubs merging over the past 10 years and I absolutely see that as being on the increase or continuing to happen.”
Long-term fears: Is club cricket dying out?