English cricket aims for kids and mums in new push to grow the sport

20 March 2017 02:08

The England and Wales Cricket Board is hoping to win the "battle of the playground and the car park" with a new grassroots initiative pitched at youngsters and their mothers.

Launched on Monday, All Stars Cricket is aiming to give 50,000 children aged between five and eight this summer the chance to hit a ball, take a wicket or make a catch.

The ECB is hoping its first nationwide, entry-level participation programme will entice a new generation of boys and girls to take up the sport, and perhaps persuade their mums and dads to get involved, too.

Cricket has lost about 100,000 regular players over the last decade but the figures for the last five years have been relatively steady.

Speaking to reporters in London, ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said growing participation in cricket was his main priority as that underpins everything else the governing body is trying to achieve in terms of the game's future health.

Harrison said: "All Stars Cricket is about winning the battle of the playground and the car park, because that's where mums come into play and trying to understand their role in what kids do in their free time has been critical.

"So the aim is really to deliver back to parents the best hour they can spend with their child over an eight-week period in the summer.

"If we can do that we'll go a long way to starting that connection between a child and cricket."

Harrison said "having fun and having a go" will be at the heart of the All Stars plan, which will be delivered through the 2,000 clubs that have signed up to the programme, which starts in May.

The first step will be for parents to register their children's interest in taking part at allstarscricket.co.uk - in return a cricket "backpack" containing a bat and a ball will arrive free of charge.

The ECB recently received £7.6million from Sport England to help finance this initiative, while the ECB has put £4million of its money into participation programmes and almost doubled its "sales force" who travel the country helping clubs and sharing best practice.

Harrison said the ECB "got everything it asked for" from Sport England and while every sport would like more funding there is no point moaning about it and there are "opportunities" for further help from other pots of government money.

The return on investment for cricket is obvious for Harrison, who said research shows you are 11 times more likely to pay to see cricket if you play the game and it is 60 per cent harder to get an 11-year-old interested in the game than if you had reached them much earlier.

He said the game was also well aware of the fierce competition for children's time and interest now, and he highlighted the rise of eSports as a particular concern.

Harrison referred to this new push for growth - and not just players, but administrators, coaches, umpires and volunteers - as a means to "future-proof" the game and to make English cricket less dependent on television revenues from international cricket that are largely generated in India.

It is an approach that chimes with current government thinking, particularly in terms of its ability to get the nation healthier and happier, but also become more self-sufficient.

In a press release, sports minister Tracey Crouch said: " All Stars Cricket is exactly the type of programme we are keen to see more of. It is vital to encourage children to have a happy, healthy and active lifestyle from an early age."

And the pitch to mothers was welcomed by Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts, who said: "W e all know that kids - not to mention grown-ups - benefit from regular exercise, but finding fun new ways to get everyone running around can stretch parents' ingenuity.

"We're happy to be working with the ECB on their campaign to highlight ways to help parents find fun, sporty activities that their children will love."

Harrison, a former Derbyshire all-rounder, said the All Stars plan is only one plank of the ECB's wider "Cricket Unleashed" strategy.

A women's version of the quicker, short-sided game Last Man Standing will be launched this summer, with more investment going into programmes such as Chance To Shine, which is aimed at boosting cricket in state schools, and Get the Game On, a campaign to help cricket clubs deal with late dropouts, bad weather or problems with facilities.

Harrison said the ECB is also making huge strides in reaching South Asian communities and is now looked upon by government as a leader in understanding how to reach these groups and tap into their potential.

Source: PA