COST OF CRICKET: PAYING TO PLAY
Pursuing our great summer pastime on any serious level has always required extra commitment, whether you measure it in money or time. It may seem out of step with modern living, but as Miles Katay argues, the value of cricket has gone underappreciated.
Is the game expensive? Think of its value, says Miles Katay.
There’s no arguing that association football – soccer – is unrivalled as a participation sport around the world. Even in a oval-ball nation such as Australia, football has stubbornly climbed the crowded ladder of sporting choices. A number of studies have recently argued that it has actually now become the most widely played sport in Australia.
An underrated strength of football is its low cost of entry, which has played no small part in its global success. Children need only a single ball to play – in some cases, even a ball is surplus to requirements with clever improvisation – and any space will do. Dirt, grass, halls, kitchens … football is cheap, accessible, and fun.
What about cricket? It’s not actually hard to see that the very grassroots of cricket – on the street, in the backyard – requires very little by
way of materials, too. Any bat will do, any ball of appropriate size, and a long enough strip to make a pitch; all of these can be improvised. Cricket’s rectangular-ness lends itself to most spaces.
Many fond memories are made in these kinds of places. In the mind of each young cricketer is the sense that one day, this street might become the MCG, or Lords, or Eden Gardens; one day, mum and dad would be joined by thousands of cheering fans. Who didn’t dream of playing for their country while batting against their schoolmates?
The issue for cricket is that the stepping stones from dream to reality are simply too far apart. Cricket is just not very scalable. The truth is there’s little in between non-serious backyard cricket and fully-fledged club involvement.
The costs run deep for such a commitment. Registration prices are just a beginning; a basic set of junior gear including bat, pads, gloves, and helmet requires a minimum of $150. Although the financial costs of cricket might seem intimidating, it’s far from an outlier in terms of average spending. Sport Australia data show that the median annual spend for children in organised cricket was just $140, compared to $220 for tennis, $200 for football, $180 for netball and $120 for Australian rules football.
But it’s according to the modern era’s most valuable commodity that cricket’s costs are most intimidating. It’s no secret that the sport demands a higher level of time commitment than is usually readily available. The stats back
ALTHOUGH THE FINANCIAL COSTS OF CRICKET MIGHT SEEM INTIMIDATING, IT’S FAR FROM AN OUTLIER IN TERMS OF AVERAGE SPENDING.
it up: the median session duration for cricket participation was 180 minutes, compared to 90 for tennis and Aussie rules, and 60 for football.
Beyond the cost in time, it’s the lack of middle ground between the leisure and the club settings that underscores the gulf between the two. The complex nature of the sport, involving fine margins, umpiring and small details, demands a higher level of organisation and more ambitious amount of time if it’s to be anything other than backyard cricket.
Contrast this with the yardstick of football, where the translations from backyard to professional are far more manageable. Replace the backyard with a local park, and all that’s required are boots, nets and enough players for an organised friendly match. Seven per side is enough if 11 aren’t available. It’s not far from there to joining a club with infrastructure such as referees and booked grounds. There are registration costs, but parents and adult players alike are willing to pay for a friendly community and a short, weekend morning outdoors when gear and time aren’t obstacles. Football is scalable in a way that cricket cannot offer.
Tim Brown, of Eastern Suburbs Cricket Club, notes that a drop-off in under-14’s and under-16’s participation levels has been of concern to clubs around the country. The solution, many will suggest, is to make cricket cheaper and shorter. Demand less of the parents, and watch grassroots cricket flourish and club participation numbers jump. It’s a tactic that many associations are experimenting with; various new versions of the game continue to be implemented in the most junior formats.
Nobody doubts that cricket used to be the unrivalled summer sport in Australia. Do whatever you like in winter, but the rest of the year is taken. It’s a vision of summer that certainly belongs in a bygone era, and arguably it’s the past dominance of the sporting calendar that has induced the level of angst when people ask about cricket’s place in modern Australia. Cricket has been uncomfortably joined by other codes. The clearest measure of such disquiet
was Cricket Australia’s participation report for the
2018-19 season, soon revealed to be far too optimistic.
These are difficulties that cricket has to answer in an increasingly busy, financially stressed world.
While there’s a case for making the sport cheaper, there’s another path – emphasise the sport’s value – which is too often forgotten. Cricket gets dimmed down and shortened in an attempt to convince parents it’s not the time investment many make it out to be. But when children can use club gear and leave the ground by 10am, it’s really no different to any other sport.
Instead, what if cricket’s inefficiency was its greatest strength? What if the best response to gapless calendars was actually more time “doing nothing”? The significant cost of playing cricket may just be where the value, in fact, lies. As an organised sport, perhaps cricket alone offers such a countercultural response to busy-ness.
Yes, cricket is costly. The love of the game draws aspiring cricketers all around the world for fruitless seasons, and those more inclined to the couch must spend hours just to take in a single
Test match. Schoolchildren are told to drive endless hours to grounds, but there’s no guarantee of extended involvement, especially because getting out actually means walking off the field.
But it’s a cost worth paying, because paying the price might be the very thing people need.
CRICKET GETS DIMMED DOWN, SHORTENED … WHEN CHILDREN CAN USE CLUB GEAR AND LEAVE THE GROUND BY 10AM, IT’S REALLY NO DIFFERENT TO ANY OTHER SPORT.