Monday, 5 February 2018

An issue

It is unusual for Fantasy Bob to address matters of consequence.  This is a great relief to his worldwide handful of readers who have long understood that he will never have anything useful or sensible to say about anything.  There is as much chance of him successfully negotiating an over from an 11 year old leg spinner.

However 11 year old leg spinners and their ilk are causing concern and this has got FB thinking.  The cricketing blogosphere - or at least the part of that mighty ocean into which FB dips his toe from time to time - has recently been preoccupied by anxieties over junior cricket and whether it will replenish the player base. Too few 11 year old leg spinners become 18 year old leg spinners, far less 25 year old leg spinners.  FB’s readers might conclude that he would be secretly relieved at the imminent death of leg spin but this is an issue that afflicts all other bowling actions and batters too.  Even where junior cricket is relatively healthy junior players do not become senior players.

FB recognises these concerns - his own club -go ahead Carlton in Edinburgh - stands at the pinnacle of developing opportunities for junior cricketers. Early engagement with senior cricket is seen as crucial to their development – even if it does mean being exposed to the questionable captaincy skills of FB. 

Junior cricket at Carlton -
just itching for the chance to play with FB

The club’s lower teams draw heavily on the junior membership who will on most league days form about half the teams’ numbers.  None is there to make up the numbers  – they are valued as an essential part of the team and expected to make a contribution to the relentless pursuit of league points.  Those high expectations are rarely disappointed.   It is the kids who win the games - the grown ups who lose them. The club’s internal research confirms how positively the youngsters enjoy and value this experience.  And yet, even in this rosiest of gardens, the common problems can be seen.  Players who had been progressing well lose interest and disappear.  Many are the factors identified to account for this - the authorities, parents, schools, media, extra-terrestrial forces.  What can be done?

Progressive developmental pathways may secure players with top team potential.  But where are the future FBs to come from?  Whee are the lower team players of tomorrow? Players of modest ability (and even that description flatters FB) who are committed to the game though what can only be described as  love.  How did FB fall in love with cricket? 

FB has blogged before describing his cricketing development – he had zero coaching, there was no development pathway, there was minimal school cricket.  And yet something somewhere caused the game to enter his soul.  What was it?
Proper cricket -
(l-r) Swanton, Johnston and West

FB is increasingly convinced that it was his early exposure to Test match cricket on TV – those flickering black and white images, those umpires in long white coats, the rolled up sleeves and Brylcreme of the players, the crowd picnicking up to the limits of the boundary rope and the cut glass accent of Peter West.  It was mystical and magic and brought to him by the BBC throughout the season – the lunch interval would be filled with Watch With Mother but the cricket was Watch With Father.  Later there was the Gillete Cup and the John Player League – but always there was the Test Match.  Cricket was available and accessible.  It continuity and nuance displayed.  FB – and many like him – understood the point of it.  Unless people fall in love with cricket like FB did, there will be no lower teams and no infrastructure.

Test cricket was last available on terrestrial TV in the momentous 2005 Ashes – 8.4 million watched the closing day of the fourth test in the series.  Last year’s England South Africa Test was watched by fewer than 400,000.

This may not be the only factor at play, nostalgia is not necessarily a reliable witness and pressures on young people are intense.   But if the visibility of cricket was so significant for FB, then it must have been so for many others.   That is worth thinking about.