Change in way children play seems to work Down Under...
THE Aussies haven’t done too much wrong in the past 30 years so when they decide to embark on a complete revamp of the way they introduce kids to cricket, the rest of the world should take note.
For the best part of 200 years it has generally been accepted that the youth game should mirror the adult game. But Down Under, that’s about to change for good.
Last August Cricket Australia announced a revamp of the way the sport is played in a bid to attract and retain players in the country’s junior system for longer. That involved changes to the length of matches and the length of pitches. Initially trialled by 17 associations, it has now been rolled out across Australia, with 65 per cent of associations adopting the programme for the forthcoming junior season.
“There are an inordinate number of kids who want to play our game and a lot of them we’ve scared off because we’ve made the game too difficult,” said Greg Chappell, a key figure behind the project. “We haven’t made it enough fun, we haven’t developed their passion early by giving them a memorable experience. The different formats are about compressing the game, increasing the number of moments they’re involved in the game, handling the ball, holding the ball, hitting the ball because that’s how you learn.”
You could argue that a system that has produced the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh can’t have too many flaws. Australia, like England, however, are acting to arrest a slide in participation that is a fundamental threat in an era where other distractions are consistently in competition.
Fewer players in youth cricket immediately increases the opportunities for those on the pitch and shorter pitches also cuts out the number of potential wides bowled – a constant moan of parents and coaches in junior age group cricket both in Australia and here in England.
At U9 level, Aussie kids will now play on a 14 metre pitch with eight players and a 30m boundary. Those restrictions increase until players reach the age of 14.
Primarily, particularly for the very young age groups, the emphasis is on fun rather than excellence. It seems to be working.
“There were more runs scored, more action in the field,” says Neil McDonald, cricket development manager at Cricket NSW when asked about the pilot last season. “Kids rotating the strike quicker and games finishing in two hours rather than three and a half hours.
“We’d like to think that out of this we haven’t got as many holes in the sieve moving forward.”
So popular has the pilot proved that New Zealand have already followed the Aussies’ lead in introducing the changes in format to their own youth cricket programmes.
Others will doubtless be watching to see if the first year success is a pointer to a brave new future.
Key figure: Greg Chappell