Change in way chil­dren play seems to work Down Un­der...

The Cricket Paper - - WOMEN’S ASHES - By Richard Ed­wards

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

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