I thought I’d talk you through some trends that are likely to unfold in grassroots cricket over 2024. A bit of crystal ball gazing combined with analysis of news from the ECB and my own observations.
It is very in-depth so I’ve got these headings, if you want to jump to the relevant section.
This mix of predictions, challenges and opportunities begins with the further development of all things EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion).
Much has been done already here in Yorkshire in 2023 and if anything, that will now gather pace with ECB strategy in place and where funding is committed.
The findings of the ICEC Report, published in 2023, held a mirror up to the game of cricket in England and Wales that shocked and appalled in equal measure.
Cindy Butts, Chair of the ICEC, said in the report: “Racism, class-based discrimination, elitism and sexism are widespread and deep rooted. It’s not banter or just a few bad apples. Discrimination is both overt and baked into the structures and processes within cricket.”
EQUITY, DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) response on 25 Sept, outlined further steps it plans to take to make cricket more inclusive.
As ever with Cricket Yorkshire, I’m looking for measures that impact the recreational game and like to think about how those will be implemented.
The question of being inclusive can, ironically, be divisive. It triggers a natural and emotional response in some people, clubs and volunteers: “Of course, we’re inclusive, we’re very welcoming…”
That might be true but much as a cricket club often has a five-year development plan, it’ll be interesting to see how much EDI becomes more of a focus and an integral part of a club’s planning.
If there aren’t already, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are more EDI requirements for funding cricket projects in future at grassroots.
But while we’ve had a tumultuous couple of years in Yorkshire cricket at all levels, some of the good to come out of it is asking a difficult question more deeply and forensically.
We think we’re being inclusive – but are we really? (And how do we check?)
EDI has an enormous scope and there’s already been noticeable progress on many fronts from Yorkshire CCC to the YCB and Yorkshire Cricket Foundation.
From the removal of match fees and the provision of free kit in the YCCC Pathways performance programme to the support for Leeds Kites, the first LGBTQ+ inclusive cricket team based in Leeds, important ripples are normalising and championing the involvement of all faiths and backgrounds.
I don’t have a direct line to the upper echelons of the ECB but I think the appointment of Leshia Hawkins as the new Managing Director, Recreational Game is another positive step. You’d think it gives grassroots cricket more of a say at the top table and her energy and personality shine through on social media channels and LinkedIn.
Cricket needs to be a lot more relatable and never more so than at the ECB.
Of course, it’s one thing for commercial organisations to promote representation but another to implement change across the 42,000 volunteers in recreational cricket in England and Wales.
They do it for the love of the game, often alongside jobs, kids and a myriad of other commitments. It stands to reason that to fully embrace EDI (as we should) requires more of an already overstretched volunteer base.
A recurring theme I heard in 2023 was the stifling effect of admin in grassroots cricket and if 2024 is to be judged positively, the volunteers overseeing a vast amount of cricket and community involvement need all the support they can get.
I imagine it will be part carrot, part stick. Ensuring certain EDI training across leagues and clubs but also rewarding those who make it a priority.
How we encourage meaningful change in cricket is a significant hurdle but it can be approached in so many ways.
The ECB response to the ICEC Report steps out what will happen in 2024 and beyond that will filter down to Yorkshire and everywhere else.
I noted in the ECB’s report that they plan to “develop EDI education curriculum for the game across four key cohorts (Leadership, Professional Players, the ECB and Network Staff, and Recreational Game).”
I wonder if that list of cohorts is in priority order? (He asks slightly mischeviously).
There will be bespoke EDI training for coaches in cricket which is a step forward but they are all evaluated anyway so it’s an extra module in a course. Away from the classroom, the thornier issue is encouraging discussions that may change behaviour in our society.
How do we encourage more diverse committees at cricket clubs that represent different ages, backgrounds and life experiences when recruitment can be so difficult?
Some clubs already do this as a matter of course, others don’t for a variety of reasons and many are run by a small, committed core who were the ones holding the parcel when the music stopped.
The ECB’s commitment is to provide a “game-wide Volunteering Strategy over the next 12 months.”
I have been banging the drum about the lack of resources specifically on volunteer recruitment for years. I would hope that some emerge in 2024, not 2025 or later. The need is absolutely out there. It always has been.
We educate coaches, we educate scorers, we educate umpires and yet we don’t share how clubs find and retain volunteers. I find that baffling; not least because there are thousands of case studies out there waiting to be talked to.
One thing that leapt out from the ECB is their reference to addressing barriers that could prevent a wider diversity of people from becoming volunteers.
If I earnt a pound for every time I was told that no-one wants to volunteer at a club, the cricket teas fund would be flush.
That’s a huge opportunity.
It adds support at grassroots, brings new ideas and energy to the recreational game and diversifies who is involved with how our wonderful game is delivered.
The ECB’s Environmental Sustainability Plan for Cricket makes for fascinating yet stark reading.
We’ve all experienced the effects of climate change in cricket from the mercury exceeding 40 degrees centigrade in 2022 to leagues postponing the start of the following season due to months of wet weather.
The documents reveals: “The top ten hottest years since UK records began (in 1884) have all been since 2003, while 2022 – the hottest on record and sixth-driest summer – saw temperatures exceed 40°C for the first time.
But at the same time, six of the ten wettest years have occurred since 1998 and the last decade has seen increasing frequency and intensity of rainfall – which results in delays in play and in the worst cases – flooding.”
At the time of its release, headlines were of the ECB being the first cricket national governing body to sign up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework with targets to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach Net Zero by 2040.
Image: Caught Light Photography
While organisational change sets the tone, not least trying to address the ridiculous amount of travel in professional sport, support for grassroots clubs is of most interest here at CYHQ.
Since I began Cricket Yorkshire in 2011, I’ve interviewed many cricket clubs who have had their lives turned upside down by flooding.
It’s an area where the ECB and the Yorkshire Cricket Board have provided crucial financial support again and again. I’ll never forget the extraordinary floods here in Yorkshire in 2015 but those clubs had advice and funds to rebuild.
As the ECB states: “The game will need to adapt to become more resilient to the effects of climate change, to become more flood resilient, to use less water and adapt to warmer temperatures.”
There’s also lessening greenhouse gas emissions, cutting down the waste we all send to landfill, reducing single-use plastic, increasing biodiversity and thinking more about how to source sustainable products and materials.
It’s worth reading the ECB document for ideas on how to assess what your club can do or what you can do individually.
Their three key priorities – and therefore where clubs can expect to get help in future – are tackling climate change, managing resources, and protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
Here are some of the commitments that the ECB has in black and white for 2024 and future years:
- Work with County Cricket Boards to ensure that 100% of clubs in Flood Zones 2 & 3 in England and Wales have a flood plan in place by 2030.
- Develop a guide on sustainable clubs for the recreational game by end of 2024, to include purchasing and waste management.
- Create, with partners, the ‘Green Ground Guide for Cricket’ to support grounds managers and clubs to enhance and protect biodiversity and the natural environment on their ground.
As ever with the ways that cricket clubs and their local communities can get more involved, it’s how they audit in-house and do what they can and also where funding is available for environment-focussed projects.
Some other suggestions that spring to mind:
- Review what you currently do, learn, plan and implement. That can start with easy wins without the need for big grants.
- Engage your cricket club in the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation’s Cric-Kit recycling scheme for kit recycling (or an alternative).
- Review funding options – including electric-powered cricket grounds machinery through the ECB County Grants Fund (caveat: talk to the YCB or other county staff in your area to check what funding is available as this pot has been open for some time).
Some might reasonably feel that they already tread a tightrope (financial and personnel) between delivering cricket, maintaining facilities and helping their communities.
But to be blunt for a moment, this isn’t a nice-to-do. Floods, drought, pollution and extreme heat have and will affect us all.
🏏 GIRLS CRICKET
The ECB has stated that they are partnering with Metro Bank to “recruit 6,000 volunteers to grow girls’ cricket so there are 2,000 clubs with a girls’ section and 6,000 girls’ teams by 2026.”
Not to put too fine a point on it but that’s only a couple of years away.
I think the momentum in women and girls’ cricket has been phenomenal in Yorkshire over the past two years. There is so much more to do but it is already normalising the volume and formats for female players, teams, clubs and officials from those who maintain grounds to umpires and scorers.
It comes with a set of problems that need to be overcome to ensure the momentum doesn’t stall, let alone reach the targets set when it comes to girls’ cricket.
There aren’t enough grounds, coaches, helpers and female-specific facilities. It’s an obvious byproduct of a massive and accelerated game of catch-up. Having enough people to oversee the game and places to play it are the barriers – or the opportunities – depending on how you look at it.
What’s particularly exciting from all that’s been done in 2023 and beforehand is that the demand is there. It’s come off the back of higher profile and success in the professional game, TV exposure and the work at county boards to increase playing, coaching and officiating.
For the ECB’s plan to come to fruition, it has to be successful in Yorkshire. That’s not arrogance by the way; just the reality when it comes to existing numbers of volunteers, teams, clubs and leagues.
I’ll be working with the YCB to share news and interviews of how this transpires locally. From what’s been released publicly so far by the ECB, there will have to be a major push to train many more coaches specifically for women and girls’ cricket.
The aim to treble the number of girls’ cricket teams in England and Wales by 2026 is intrinsically tied up with a (presumably enormous) fund but the real success when we look back in December 2026 will be how we’ve attracted newcomers to inspire many more girls in cricket.
🏏 CRICKET IN STATE SCHOOLS
There is probably more cricket in state schools than you think there is but not nearly enough than there should be.
I’ve written about this a few times with the help from the YCB and will continue to share news of projects. Not to sugarcoat a topic that is always bubbling away but to give a balanced view of the successes alongside the continual need for more.
I’m aware that there are many of you out there who are more qualified to speak on this subject. I’m not a parent, I’ve never worked in schools and it’s a world I just don’t inhabit at all.
Yet, as Simon Hughes once wrote in his 1998 book, A Lot of Hard Yakka: “I haven’t set the world alight, but I’ve hung around with people who have.”
That could be said for all kinds of topics we cover here on Cricket Yorkshire and I listen to and interview those who are in the know, prodding a subject from all sides.
As per their website, the ECB’s commitments in terms of schools cricket include:
- Working with partners in the wider game to design an enhanced and expanded Talent Pathway that aims to remove barriers and increase opportunity. Our aim is that by 2025, finance will not be a barrier for Talent Pathway participants.
- Developing Action Plans, as requested by the ICEC, to tackle barriers for state school pupils and Black and other Ethnically Diverse communities.
- Investing an extra £2m into charity partners to boost their work in breaking down barriers, particularly for state school, Black and British South Asian children and young people – the African Caribbean Engagement (ACE) Programme, Chance to Shine, Lord’s Taverners, MCC Foundation and South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA).
How this happens on the ground – and with what resources is the question here in Yorkshire. It’ll likely take many routes from building on the ACE programme in Sheffield to expanding the ‘R66T to Hardball’ competition.
‘R66T to Hardball’ saw 200 children from 17 schools take part in 2023. The entry-level competition encourages schools to play hardball cricket. It also links into the current Yorkshire Cricket Board Chance to Compete U13 and U15 hardball events.
Speaking of Sheffield, congratulations to Sheffield Caribbean’s Chair Des Smith, who won 2023 BBC Sports Personality Unsung Hero award. The profile of a high-profile award will highlight the good work in that city and drive more discussion about recreational cricket.
Of course, it just isn’t as simple as funding = success – but that’s a start.
To that end, the ECB is committing millions of pounds over the next three years to fund more state school cricket, alongside work with Lord’s Taverners to ensure more with disabilities or special educational needs can play the game.
The Yorkshire Cricket Board delivered the SEND schools programme to over 60 schools across the county in 2023 with a combination of table cricket and softball games. Beckfoot School in Bingley were Yorkshire champions and ended up only narrowly losing the final at Lord’s.
Again, I’ll shine a light on disability cricket here on the website and aim to hear from those who coach, play and deliver the game in various ways.
Ok, that’s it for this preview. A bit of an epic and as is the way with Yorkshire cricket, I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Thanks for reading. It could be the longest article I’ve written in a while, a few days before Christmas with the SAD lamp on in the office, gusts rattling the trees outside and the remnants of a long-since demolished mince pie.
OVER TO YOU…
So, what’s important to you for 2024? What would you like to see happen in recreational cricket (broadly or in Yorkshire?) What’s missing or what would you like to know more about?
Leave a comment below (I read them all) or get in touch on social media, I’m @cricketyorks on Twitter or there’s the Cricket Yorkshire Facebook page.
Here’s to a fantastic year of cricket!
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