It would not be an exaggeration to say that if you care about the game of cricket in any way, shape or form then completing the 2014 National Cricket Playing Survey can be your significant contribution to its future.
Anyone, from the age of 14 upwards, can have their say with a few clicks around a digital questionnaire and by so doing, directly influence the direction that recreational cricket heads.
Encouraging you all to fill out an online form may well take every inch of creativity and imploring – you’ve all got busy lives after all – but stick with me and I’ll give you the background, key issues and where you personally fit into all of this.
First, some numbers. Over 21,000 current and former players did the 2013 survey (including 3,000 from Yorkshire) and those responsible for the administration and upkeep of our great game are responding to the feedback from players who want to play more or less; those who have never played but could be tempted and others who have lapsed.
What sort of things can change and how long does that take to begin to be actively seen? No-one wants to do a survey upon which nothing happens for some years but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
New formats, rules changes, alternative start times, shorter travel distances and more opportunities to play the game for women, girls and those with a disability are all starting to be seen this summer.
It’s an exciting and challenging evolution of the game at grassroots as the England and Wales Cricket Board and its County Boards explore what’s the best way to encourage as many people to play the game of cricket as possible.
Of course, what’s relevant and most pressing in Bedfordshire will be entirely different to Yorkshire, Lancashire or Cornwall – and within certain areas of each county. The cricketing context on the ground in each county requires a local response but first there’s the need for raw data.
Here in Yorkshire, we’re leading the way in teasing out what people want and how to deliver it to them. With tens of thousands of people playing cricket in the county each year, that’s a welcome melting pot to accommodate.
The ten-year-old girl who’s never played cricket before but wants to give it a go; the sixty-year-old bloke who’s keen to unleash his yorker upon the world once more; the Leeds city worker who doesn’t have time for a weekend game but is up for an evening T20.
The uncomfortable truth is that less people are playing cricket than they used to be.
Somehow, the feel-good factor and momentum generated from the 2005 Ashes win and England’s subsequent resurgence – which saw a huge uplift from those who previously knew nothing about the game – has dissipated and cricket finds itself competing fiercely to retain, let alone boost the numbers.
This has led to some inward soul searching and inquisitive research to get to the bottom of what people actually want from their cricket experiences. Being prepared – potentially – for bold change has to be the way forward.
In a county steeped in cricketing tradition like Yorkshire, there is a smorgasbord of cricket played at every conceivable level.
To give you a flavour of that, there’s Yorkshire age-group cricket, both boys and girls; the success story that is the U9 Drax Cup; Asda Kwik Cricket; Chance to Shine programmes in schools; club cricket in its many guises; disability cricket; the T20 rollercoaster format that is Last Man Stands and the list stretches onto the horizon.
Club cricket is one area where we may well see some seismic changes in the next year or two. There will always be those who wake up on a Saturday; bounce out of bed having somehow got through their week without cricket; double-check their kit before breakfast and look forward to playing all day, perhaps both days.
The diehards in club cricket; we salute you; I was once one of your kind; prepared to bowl all weekend until my legs fell off; willing to drive across the country in pursuit of cricket of any kind.
But there are others who will want to play a T20 or perhaps a thirty-five over match which allows time for family and life away from cricket. Perish the thought.
The club scene in Yorkshire remains healthy although the overall number of clubs continues to drop off a bit from a few years back; but clubs and leagues (through the mechanism of this survey) have a chance to explore whether they want to move towards a more regionalised setup; to reduce travel on matchdays; whether shorter games are genuinely wanted or how and when they want to get involved with cricket.
Giving a voice to everyone within these clubs – and just as importantly listening and considering how to deliver cricket in the future for people of all ages and standards – will be absolutely key.
Many more girls and women need to fill out this 2014 survey. Why? Because, not nearly enough did last year and it’s impossible to react to and instigate plans for girls and women’s cricket in Yorkshire and across England and Wales without getting their opinions.
To crunch the numbers meaningfully, there’s a notable drop-off from organised junior cricket to senior cricket in the teen years and before the inevitable mention of beer and the fairer sex gets a mention, that would be a lazy cop-out.
Cricket doesn’t suddenly get less appealing as a game at a certain age necessarily but as a format that can munch through the lion’s share of your weekend, well, perhaps now we’re getting to the nub of the issue.
This is where I clamber onto my soapbox and get ready for a Churchillian speech. Whatever standard of cricket you’ve ever played or would like to play, take a break, make a cuppa and click through the survey.
The time will fly by and at the end, you’ll have given your important perspective as to what cricket you want to be playing in the future.
It’s then up the administrators and those that govern cricket nationally and in your local area to deliver that so you get the best possible enjoyment and there’s a format and pathway to being involved that suits you.
Surveys like these offer an overarching perspective. Take last year.
The 2013 survey revealed 1.7million played the sport in the last twelve months. A total of 908,000 people aged fourteen or over played cricket in teams – in addition, 792,000 enjoyed something more informal like cricket in the park or the back garden.
In 2013, 58% said they would like to play more often and 80% found cricket more enjoyable than other sports they also play. You can choose to interpret data like this in any which way you like but in those two stats in isolation, there is encouragement and a clear remit to do better.
As someone who has spent a lifetime getting immense enjoyment from playing the game of cricket; from an uncertain schoolboy aged nine thrust into the slip cordon (despite being terrified of the ball); it has thrilled, delighted and rewarded year after year.
But if you’re still not quite convinced, how about some extra good news. By completing the survey, you will have the chance to win prizes including signed bats, shirts and pairs of tickets to an England v India Royal London One Day International.
Not bad, huh? So, here’s one final challenge for the White Rose county. Yorkshire led the way last year with clubs and leagues getting competitive in having the most people do the survey.
Hopefully local pride and an eye on being involved in the process will galvanise everyone once more. The hope is for 6,000 people from Yorkshire to complete the National Cricket Playing survey – the population, give or take, of Saltburn-by-Sea.
Over to you (and everyone else reading this wherever you are, geographically)…