Cricket is still England’s national sport – so why is it that since 2007 there are over 100,000 less participants in this country according to a survey conducted in 2016.
I remember as a young kid growing up idolising the likes of Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Sir Ian Botham and watching England smash the Aussies to take the Ashes. But it seems that cricket is on the back foot with a slump in popularity.
As an ex-cricketer of sorts and someone who used to love going down to watch my local cricket team, Leicestershire, it saddens me to see a sport so engrained into our country’s identity dwindle as it has done. Last year the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards didn’t feature a single cricketer, despite huge success, especially for the likes of England captain Joe Root.
So why is cricket not the sport it used to be? And why are there fewer and fewer people participating each year?
Greg Smith, former professional Derbyshire and Essex cricketer, put it down to the time that cricket takes up, especially for young people.
He said: “I think participation has decreased because people and particularly young people would rather spend their weekend doing other stuff which doesn’t take up the entire day.”
It is becoming increasingly hard to attract young people to the sport, especially the long form of the game, and with competition from other high profile sports in the same areas cricket clubs, it is made even more difficult.
Dan Nice, Communications and Logistics Manager at Leicestershire County Cricket Club, said: “The structure of domestic cricket means that only people who are retired or work shifts can attend in person for the most part.”
And being in a place like Leicester where there are two other high-profile sports teams in the form of Leicester City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC makes it all the more difficult to attract people.
However, he believes that cricket is behind the times with bringing young people to cricket matches and as a result has introduced new measures in order to get the crowds.
“We try to reach out through social media, offer great value for money, and offer ‘money can’t buy experiences’ such as meeting players, having selfies and autographs, and playing cricket on the night,” he said.
His mantra on fan attraction to fixtures is that if a friendship group finds it worthwhile and cool then they are more likely to come back time and time again not just to T20 matches, but also the Championship games which last more than one day at a time.
However, Nice does state that although people aren’t interested in consuming full length matches, people are still keeping up to date with scores through digital media and therefore despite ticket sales and game attendances being down for club Championship matches there is still an appetite for the game.
He said: “Digital media figures and consumption habits show that, despite people not being generally able to access the County Championship in person they are interested in watching because live streaming figures are excellent, highlights clips are popular, as are short videos of batsmen leaving balls or having their stumps knocked out.”
From the examples given to me by Nice it’s clear that there are things being done to combat the lack of viewership and involvement as a spectator in cricket. But what is being done to combat the lack of kids willing to play cricket in our country?
Well, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) created a campaign in which school kids from the ages of five to eight can compete in against one another in something called the “battle of the playgrounds”.
Former England and Leicestershire cricketer Paul Nixon hailed schemes likes this that put work into getting the youth of today into cricket and labelled its importance as “massive”.
Nixon is also an ambassador for the sport having set up his own academy as well as being appointed head coach for Leicestershire County Cricket Club in October this year, one of his aims to bring forward more academy players into first-class cricket.
He said: “Only true cricket purists want to watch four-day cricket but if we can get kids into cricket through T20 then a ripple effect will happen.
“I set up an academy for kids aged 16 to 19 who struggled or didn’t necessarily enjoy school which we were very successful at.
“It wasn’t necessarily about making them professional cricketers, if they did then great, but it was more about making them more rounded individuals and getting them involved in sport.”
Nixon also told me a story of a young lad who was going through a dark time in his life, but after a trip abroad and time learning and playing cricket with the academy he was saved and once again began to enjoy life.
It just goes to show the power that sport can have upon people’s lives. Cricket especially is not only a fun sport but it can bring people, kids, and friends – old and new – together and that is why cricket will always have a place in my heart and hopefully for many more in those generations to come as well.