Cricket Goes 'Street'

12 Feb

From QuipuTV/Tim Brooks

Cricket faces a constant challenge in attracting to the game youngsters who face so many digital distractions and temptations. This challenge is hard enough in cricket's Commonwealth heartlands, but in countries where cricket is considered a quirky pastime, and therefore a minority sport, it requires not only missionary zeal but innovative application to claim a foothold.

QuipuTVWith the ICC pushing participation as their main development target, with a million non full-member participants a realisable ambition within the next decade, they may just have found the answer in Street 20, a simple, short format of game that has been a great success in the UK.

In partnership with Cricket for Change, a London based organisation with over 30 years of experience, ICC Europe are working with six of its members to create a craze they hope will sweep across Europe and turn cricket from a minority sport to one most boys and girls have the opportunity to play. This week coaches and administrators from the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, France, Spain and Finland have been at a training camp in South London learning how to run and promote this exciting new format and incorporate it into their development plans. I joined them for a day to find out more (I took a blinding catch when called upon, but generally mine was a watching and learning brief).

While, for many, cricket's greatness lies in its complexity and subtlety, these are not the characteristics that help hook the uninitiated. This requires a format that is simple to understand and exciting to play. Street 20 is played by two teams of six, with twenty balls per side bowled in five four-ball overs. Everyone, barring the wicketkeeper, gets a bat and a bowl; the scoring is simple; and the games, fast and vocal. It can be played indoors or outdoors all year long and has been a great success in introducing cricket to disadvantaged communities in the UK as well as providing opportunities for players with disabilities.

Andy Sellins, CEO of Cricket for Change, explained how the UK model has worked abroad: "We have run similar Street 20 development programmes in Israel, Palestine, Jamaica and Afghanistan and they have been successful in bringing together young people from different ethnic, religious and social and economic backgrounds to work positively together."

The three-day course saw practical sessions where coaches learned how to host the games and generated ideas on how to tailor the format to their own circumstances. For instance, Spain intend to introduce it into the beach fiestas that bring young people out in numbers during the summer season. Finland, meanwhile, acknowledge that weather may see it being predominantly an indoor format, played in schools and leisure centres. These practical sessions, which included some nail-biting games and expert advice on umpiring, were complemented by sessions on promotion through social media and incorporating Street 20 into national development plans and player pathways. A recent training camp in European affiliate Serbia was very well received, and the ambition is to replicate this on a larger scale.

Cricket 4 change

It is hoped that the simplicity and inclusivity of the format can tempt youngsters to the game and overcome some of the traditional barriers of outreach programmes such as the need for expensive equipment, specialist facilities and complex rules – the understanding of which exceeds the attention span of the average teenager! ICC Europe will provide grants to the six pilots who will target boys and girls under 19 years-of-age, working with schools, clubs and community groups. The plan is for national programmes to culminate in a European tournament.

All countries came brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, discussing initiatives such as 'Lads and Dads' and 'Bring a Friend' days. All hope that the programme will lead to a greater number of youth players in clubs, national age-group teams and ultimately an increase in the quality and quantity of the player base. The ICC is confident that if the six pilots are a success other European members will join the party.

Like Kwik-cricket, which has been successful in introducing cricket to the Under-11 age-group, Street 20 is seen as an important stage in the progression to senior, hard-ball cricket. It also has the potential to help countries spread cricket from existing centres and focal points. For instance, cricket in Greece is concentrated on the island of Corfu, and they hope Street 20 is the format that can help them crack Athens.

The ICC has high hopes and ambitious plans for Street 20 and this must be reflected in long-term support for the members piloting the format. But there is also an opportunity for each member country to use the popularity of the format to attract sponsors and governmental sources of income to capitalise on initial breakthroughs and spread the format, geographically.

Cricket is littered with examples of initiatives that have begun with real promise but left no lasting legacy. And it is no surprise that legacy was the most frequently used word in the planning sessions. There was a consensus that Street 20 must leave a legacy, not only in an expanded player base but also in the network of coaches and umpires that are so often the unsung heroes of associate and affiliate cricket.

If it can also generate more media coverage, help forge relationships between clubs, schools and community groups, and provide opportunities for traditionally hard-to-reach social groups then it has the potential to be one of most significant development initiatives of the modern era.

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