The Vital Importance of Club Cricket

Today new writer Will Wright reminds us how important it is for developing cricketers to play club cricket against adults. English cricket would be lost without our amateur game.

The first call up I received to my local club’s second XI came as a fresh faced 16 year old. A balmy July morning and a dry summer ensured optimal batting conditions, which meant upon winning the toss I was thrust into the line of fire to open the batting. After a few nervy moments early on, a couple of boundaries settled the nerves and soon enough I was into my flow. Some friendly bowling and a scorched outfield helped me rattle along in the early overs, bringing up my half century just before drinks with a lofted straight six off the spinner.

Needless to say, I was delighted with how events were unfolding, trying in vain to conceal the grin that was spreading across my face as I sheepishly acknowledged the applause from my teammates. Soon after I was out, losing my shape horribly in a botched attempt to recreate my maximum from the previous over. Despite the unsightly end to my innings, I departed with a great deal of satisfaction over this first foray into second team cricket, basking in the warm reception of my onlooking teammates as I sauntered towards the dressing room.

This proved to be short lived, however, as I turned the corner and entered our dingy, damp changing room. My self-congratulatory mood was instantly shattered by the presence of our comically ominous and unsmiling 6-foot 7 opening bowler, who flashed a disgruntled scowl in my direction. ‘What the f*ck did you do that for you daft bastard’.

That a flashy fifty does not win you universal approval, let alone a game, is one of many lessons I learnt in those first years of graduating from age group cricket. These are lessons that many youngsters will not have the chance to learn this summer as the enforced cricketing hiatus continues. However, this is not a predicament that can be entirely attributed to Coronavirus. Forty percent of young players drop out of the game by the age of 19 in the UK.

This loss is devastating on so many levels, not least the fact that giving up on the game at such an early age deprives youngsters the chance to marry their energy and enthusiasm with the gnarly cricketing knowhow and experience that can be passed down by older, and not always grumpier, players.

© Michael Weir

While youth cricket progresses in a relatively linear fashion, bowlers get faster, batsmen hit harder, the adult game exposes you to a kaleidoscopic range of techniques and approaches to the game. You enter imagining you will face up to a battery of snarling fast bowlers steaming in and tickling your rib cage, but quickly realise the reality of a rotund middle aged dobbler delivering with metronomic accuracy is a far more terrifying prospect.

If your preconceived notion of an effective run scorer was a stroke maker replete with flowing cover drives and cultured back foot game, then you are in for a shock when the oppositions crabby number three unfurls an array of hacks and nurdles to blunt your attack.

Faced with this assortment of adversaries, not to mention the array of conditions club grounds are likely to present you with, the focus shifts from technical ability to mental agility and resilience, to finding a method that consistently works. If the age group set up focuses on instilling a faith in the creed of technique, club cricket provides a bracing shot of blasphemy.

However, the value of playing the adult game extends beyond just cricketing benefits. In no other sport are so many generations thrust together in the same team. For players with sufficient appetite for the game, the lower physical demands of cricket can allow for a career stretching out into their fifties or even sixties. This allows a vast amount of cricket knowledge to be spread through club teams, and it also enables cross-generational bonding that is rare in other aspects of modern society.

This is compounded by the sheer volume of time cricket requires you to spend with your teammates. Small talk may see you through 90 minutes of Sunday league football, but its not going to cut it for 50 overs of watching on from the boundary. Having that extra time to get to know your teammates attitudes to life can be as educative as being on the receiving end of their forthright cricket advice. This is why cricket can build friendships that transcend those normally forged in a sporting environment, and also explains why breakdowns in these relationships can be all the more spectacular.

Being able to communicate with and relate to older generations is an invaluable skill, and one that has never been more relevant than in our current state of political and cultural division. It would clearly be a stretch to suggest that club cricket could be the balm that we need to soothe wounded intergenerational relationships, but the social benefits of cricket are nevertheless often overlooked.

Cricket needs more young players to make the step up to the adult game; it would be a calamity if the cessation of club cricket meant a whole year group missed out on the eye opening and sometimes bewildering step up to the adult game this summer.

Will Wright

18 comments

      • You can’t have anything but short formats in the amateur game as people don’t have the time to devote full days or even full weekends to cricket, and never have had in my living memory.
        The normal afternoon games, even if they’re not limited overs don’t enable any side to complete more than around 50 overs. It’s been like that for decades, so why weren’t people bored beforehand. Young players have been reared on this ever since I can remember.
        Schools used to supply clubs with youngsters, but now so few mainstream ones play the game that most aren’t aware of the opportunities. Birmingham in the 70’s was full of clubs with 2nd and 3rd teams primarily composed of teenagers looking to graduate into the 1st team. Overheads have also increased as red tape takes over, a sign of the times, making it tough for cash strapped clubs to operate 2 or 3 teams, even if there was the interest.

        • You can have 50 overs draw games .. you don’t need unlimited or full day games or multi day games .. just force teams to take 20 wickets and play with.. you know… tactics and a brain..

          Keep it interesting and varied.

          Win lose gets boring quickly and shorter formats more so .. less room for variations in games or styles

          • And 50 over draw games can let you punish teams with ringers – star players dropped to 2nds or brought in just to win a match where the points are needed. There is little more satisfying than batting out time, with no attempt to go for a win, against a first team bowler who should not have been there in the first place.

            • More that you need the best all round team and tactics to win games and can’t just biff 300+ and roll teams over 95% of the time

              Gives every game meaning for all 100 overs.. always something to play for

          • In pretty much all the league matches I played during the 70’s and into the 80’s the only time 20 wickets seem to fall was on a dodgy pitch, which has little to do with tactics or a brain. There was nearly always a declaration on a decent wicket, unless one side batted for the maximum 55 overs allowed for the 1st innings. This meant many matches ended In a draw with the tactics amounting to who could pick up the bonus point, not the most interesting way to result in a draw. There were very few last wicket heroics to save a game that I remember.

        • 50 overs a side is short and you can have the draw available to keep it interesting

          Kids play 2020 and enjoy it but it doesn’t keep people interested long term.

          We have 3 Saturday teams but if they only play short formats we will struggle to put out more than one team as people just won’t give up their time for short games .. even if you play ‘double headers’.. limits so many players skill sets

          • I would suggest that playing a game where you get a definite result is always going to sustain interest in any contest over a a draw, whatever the sport. This applies to both those playing and watching. Who comes to watch a test match on day 5 when there’s no likelyhood of a result? The crowd only becomes significant if there’s a result, particularly a home win, in the offing.
            To suggest that the short format game has less tactical nous than a normal 100 over afternoon game is ludicrous, especially if you’re the fielding captain. You can’t afford to let a game drift like often happens in longer format matches.
            The amateur skill set has always been limited so giving the game a more positive aspect helps more players to make an active contribution. Even a quick 20 becomes significant, buying a wicket can be crucial, or a single piece of fielding. These are less likely to be game changers in the longer formats.

  • For a long time now children have played 20 overs a side, the graduation used to be either to Sunday friendlies (typically time or 40 overs) and then onto league.

    In my experience the young players had to start at the bottom and take their opportunities, earn their stripes so to speak. Senior players were there to get back into form or come back from injury. Juniors were there to run around in the deep and sweep the boundaries.

    That had to change, but this needed a captain and senior players who saw this as a chance to promote youth and if they made mistakes the seniors could rebuild the innings or bowl a few maidens. Sadly the demise of Sunday friendlies and everyone playing league means only the most astute of captains see’s the benefits of retaining rather than dropping youth after one poor performance.

    If / When we do get to play it needs to be a level playing field for all to enjoy.

    Reply moderated
  • “if they made mistakes the seniors could rebuild the innings or bowl a few maidens”

    This is absolutely the way to do it. My personal preference when skippering is to mix up seniors and juniors throughout both the batting order and the batting attack, with perhaps your gun bat coming in at 7 *if required*, and your best bowler equally biding his time in case required at the death.

    Sunday cricket seems to be making something of a comeback round our way. 30 overs is a nice compromise for those without the time to play Saturday league cricket or perhaps wanting to play in the same side as their kids.

    • Thanks AB yes we had a resurgence last summer and managed 10 matches from picking up scratch fixtures 35 overs that the kids enjoyed and adults enjoyed watching them grow.

    • I barely bat sundays to give youth and others a chance but I wouldn’t waste my day for 30 overs .. 40 overs is a bit crap tbf. A lot of sides don’t do this and a decent batter or bowler enjoys tonking or skittling sadly

    • Sunday cricket depends on where you play. Our thirds play Sunday in the Surrey Villages League. It can be more competitive that Saturday 2nds (and sometimes 1sts). Star 1st teamers who like to play both days often turn out and I have also been faced by the Surrey U19 opening bowler with the comment that he has to play Sunday because he has to play for the school on Saturday. Certainly makes Sunday games fun though. I usually play Saturday 2nds these days and had been thinking about dropping to the 3rds given my advanced age (65) – but I am not sure I am good enough for them.

  • Great article and spot on in my opinion
    I started in adult cricket at 13 and is the reason I am still playing aged 55. It teaches you about life at such a young age playing against adults

  • According to the DT, a number of public schools combined to tell the government that they were opening for the next academic year regardless. The government promptly ‘clarified’ that its ‘orders’ that schools must close were only ‘guidelines’. A lesson for cricket clubs here?

    Meanwhile, CA reportedly want Strauss as thei new CEO. They must want Strauss to do the same demolition job on their domestic game that he’s done on England’s.

  • Playing with adults as a teenager is always an eye-opener. I learned so much myself as a young batsman.

    The first time I played with adults I thought it would be a walk in the park after seeing the opposition in the warm ups. They looked unfit, over-weight, and just a bit slow. I soon learned my lesson!

    When I opened the batting I was used to a bit of pace of the ball. It was a real wake-up call to be confronted by an over-weight bloke in his late 40s / early 50s with a bizarre action. I thought he wouldn’t be any trouble at all. However, he proved impossible to ‘get away’. He was just so bloody accurate and canny. I soon learned not to judge a book by its cover. It was an incredibly important learning experience.

  • Must have been a pretty good club for a 50 (flashy or otherwise) to be greeted like that. Most second teams would be delighted with such a debut.

    The interesting thing about youngsters is the need to treat them as individuals. This was brought home to me a while ago when we had the Surrey U15 opening bowler playing for us and our opponents had his opening bat teammate from the Surrey U15s. Our lad was bigger than me (in both height and muscle) and looked about 20. The other lad looked about 12 and turned up with his dad. It was clear that they were at very different stages of development (made even more clear when our lad had his teammate caught behind – cue near tears) and needed very different handling. Too often clubs follow the same approach to development almost without thought to what the individual needs.

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