Must T20 be em­braced to en­sure sur­vival of club game?

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE - By Richard Ed­wards

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?

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