Simon Pearson writes…
This seems like an odd question given the constant mantra from the ECB and England players extolling the continued growth in the sport (1.3 million girls through Chance to Shine for example) but, in my experience at least, the competitive club side of the sport is dying, and that is before any impact from the KSL which, I fear, is likely to hit hard once the 50 over competition starts, presumably next year.
I say this because the number of teams is falling. A few seasons ago our County used to have nine teams in the leagues; they now have four. One of the local leagues has lost a substantial proportion of its members. Our team has only played one game so far this season due to other teams being unable to field a side, and we have just heard that another club has withdrawn from the league due to lack of availability of players. Ironically this is one of the clubs which has been featured on CRICKETher.
Lack of cricket at an appropriate level is a constant theme, and it’s interesting that the England coach has raised the same point because it is, of course, one of the aims behind the KSL. Generally women’s teams seem to play less than half the fixtures of the equivalent men’s teams, even before the concessions start. Recent surveys have confirmed the desire for more cricket but the changes brought in have resulted in even less.
It seems to me that the club scene has no role in the ECB/County pathway and so is largely ignored. Although there are very few clubs playing competitive league cricket in our County, our club has never been visited to see what players we have. It is also of note that the ECB have given up their role in the Premier Divisions and, I was told, will no longer protect club days.
The main emphasis seems to be on Chance to Shine. This was clearly demonstrated during a meeting called by my County several seasons ago to discuss Women’s and Girls’ Cricket. A question was asked about what the plan was for the girls as they got older, and there was no answer. We later heard that a club had lost all their older girls to another sport – not, as is often said, due to other interests but simply because there was nowhere for them to play. Most of our County girls who are at clubs at all are where there is no women’s team. When I was involved (some years back), very few played any cricket other than County and were not encouraged to do so.
One issue seems to be that Chance to Shine feeds few, if any, girls into the clubs – we have never seen one and, in fact, currently have no juniors at all.
The pathway seems to be Chance to Shine -> County Age Groups -> County -> KSL -> England.
My fear is that the game is on the edge and the KSL will push it over. Am I being overly pessimistic?
Some seasons ago I recall there was a rule that to field a County side you had to have a minimum number of league teams – maybe this should be brought back. Maybe to qualify to play at County at U15 and above you should be required to be playing in an approved competitive league.
Or maybe we should simply give up on women’s club cricket and feed the ladies into men’s teams at an appropriate level; at least they would get to play more. Unfortunately many do not want to do this, and many club facilities are not suitable.
Another issue is the verbal abuse they suffer. Contrary to what the ECB etc seem to think, a number of women I have spoken to have left clubs due to what they have been subjected to, often by their own teams.
The question of how we move forward is rather difficult to answer since there seems to be little reliable information as to where we are – the figures put forward by the ECB are regarded with considerable scepticism by those on the ground. But it is clear that the women’s game is very different from the men’s and we need to think outside the box.
While in a men’s club you can bring in new players who will find a place in whatever XI is appropriate for their standard, very few women’s clubs now have even a 2nd XI – further evidence of the decline. This means that it is very hard for players to join a club whose team is playing in an upper division. Maybe clubs should be more open to loaning players so they get the cricket they need, and it might help to keep struggling teams going. I raised this at a County area meeting a few years ago but it met with a hostile reception. Another possibility is a group of clubs getting together and co-operating.
Maybe I am exaggerating things, but I am more pessimistic than ever about the future. In my view the next couple of seasons are crucial if we are not to lose this level of cricket altogether.