The Importance of Social Cricket to Development
Russell Degnan

Samir Chopra wrote two pieces on playing cricket socially last month. In one, he rallied for the plight of specialist fielders: players who neither bowl, bat nor keep sufficiently well to justify giving them a chance if you want to win, but whose playing enjoyment is diminished unless they really like fielding. I do love fielding, I'm a poor to moddling batsman, and a decent bowler who is fit, fast and likes diving around. I've even been a specialist fieldsman and enjoyed it. But he has a good point; team cricket is a brutal game for weak player; a game where a poor batsman might spend hours sitting and watching, a poor bowler receives no chance to participate at all. As Samir notes, compared to basketball, cricket is just not as fun to play.

Except, at least in Australia (and NZ), noone plays pick-up cricket as a team sport. Occasionally, yes, but mostly not; at school lunch-time, BBQs, and backyards, whether 2 people or 30, Australians generally play backyard cricket.

The rules of backyard cricket might seem random, but most achieve two aims: to equalise abilities and increase participation. Without teams, everyone can rotate through the bowling - including single ball overs with large numbers of fieldsmen. With the bat, one-hand-one-bounce and tip-and-run significantly increase the probability of a batsman being dismissed; whether being replaced by the fieldsman or merely rotated. Conversely, no-out-first-ball, allows a weak player to face at least two balls, though we used to limit the rule to girls.

Social cricket is fast-paced, and partipatory, players get multiple opportunities to perform. If my only introduction to cricket had been formal team cricket, I'd probably never have played, but because the bulk of the cricket I played growing up was social, I developed (a few) of the necessary skills in a setting that allowed it.

This is not a new idea. Although it is worth restating. A couple of years ago, there was a wide-ranging discussion on Peter della Penna's blog on the development of cricket in America, where a commentator stated that cricket would be boring for children with all the waiting. It is, but only in a formal setting; cricket's looser rule structure and multiple formats permit a social version of the game that is inclusive. Hence, kanga cricket and other junior programs encourage participation over scoring. Unfortunately, those programs are for small children. Adjustments to cricket to make it more social haven't percolated through to adult formal cricket.

Cricket teams always face the same logistical problems in organising a game: the need for 11 players, not 12, not 10, and the concomitant need for an address book of casual ringers, or junior teams who can fill in; the need for an opposition, and the accompanying travel and its arrangement; the need for a relatively evenly skilled base of players on each side, lest the game be one sided, or the problems described above develop. In developing nations, or the country areas in Australia, or even specific competitions (like women's cricket), the sparsity of available players makes organising a team a significant problem. A sense of it can be seen when reading about the problems at youth level in Dutch Cricket; the most successful nation in continental Europe has less than 200 players at each age level, travelling all over the (small) nation just to get a game.

Australia has a dense base of cricketers to form teams from, but even so, the most common form of cricket amongst social players is indoor, not outdoor cricket. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • It requires just 8 players to form a team, sometimes only 6, and being "short" is only a mild impediment because players can bat twice if required.
  • It is a shorter game, taking only an hour or so to play.
  • It equalises abilities and encourages participation: every player must bowl, batsmen continue to bat after being dismissed (albeit with a run penalty), the nets allow a poor batsman to succeed by prod dingthe ball into the side and running.
  • Although a strong fieldsman can demonstrate brilliance, weak fieldsmen are easily hidden; the ball going through your legs is no great problem.

During the 1992 World Cup my local indoor cricket centre attempted to start a junior competition, and sort-of failed. It never attracted enough players to form two teams, with only 6 to 10 players. To make do, we played what might be termed "pairs cricket". Each pair batted against the other 4-8 players and had their plus score tallied, and their bowling scores negated. There was no bonus for catches or runouts, although there probably ought to have been. At the end of the game, the winner was the pair with the best record.

The advantages of a similar game format (played either indoors or out) for development ought to be obvious.

  • Instead of needing to create a team, and find opposition, players can just "turn-up", significantly lowering the commitment hurdle, and allowing reluctant but interested players to have a go.
  • The format would work with anything from 8 to 16 players, although with more a second game would need to be played, or teams formed.
  • By playing in pairs some equalisation of abilities is possible in selection; the dismissal as a 5 (or 10) run penalty keeps people in the game for a set period.
  • Good bowling - taking wickets - and good fielding (if runs were awarded for catches) is as valuable as scoring runs with the bat, meaning there is no bias against disciplines.
  • The game would be relatively short - a 12 player (6 pair) game with each pair facing 5 overs (1 from each pair) would take 2 hours.
  • Having pairs would allow "promotional" competitions between players that would suffer huge losses in team cricket: examples might be father-son competitions - something Jamie Harrison hints at the need for in this podcast - or first-class/international pairings in developing nations or an "all-star" weekend, where a whole competition could be played over a few days.

Often the plurality of cricket's formats is seen as a weakness, but for development it is a strength. It allows us to create a form of cricket that isolates the core of cricket - a batsman facing a bowler - and produce a competition that can be participatory, evenly contested and less constrained by logistical issues caused by having a sparse network of players. Something team cricket can, unfortunately, often not achieve, particularly in markets where there just aren't enough players to have more than one team in a city. Pairs cricket is proposed here, as an idea worth pursuing.

Cricket - Articles 6th January, 2012 18:42:31   [#]