By Charles Randall
26 May 2015
The ECB have created a new post called 'director of participation and growth' and have appointed an Australian to fill the first role.
Matt Dwyer, a senior manager of market development at Cricket Australia, based in Melbourne, has been given the task of overseeing “all aspects of the recreational game in England and Wales”. He is expected to join ECB in July.
An ECB statement said: “In his new role, Matt will have full responsibility for the ECB’s cricket partnerships team and oversee the development and implementation of a game-wide strategy to get more people playing cricket more often.” This goal is certainly shared by the National Cricket Conference, inaugurated in 2014, and the Club Cricket Conference before that.
Mike Gatting held a similar role, known as ECB managing director of cricket partnerships, but the former England captain has been sidelined to a part-time ambassadorial role, supporting grassroots projects such as NatWest CricketForce. Since 2007 his committed, genial presence helped break down barriers between the professional and club sectors, though his power remained limited. From a club point of view a clear path of responsibility within the ECB has been a stumbling block to progress.
Dwyer, with his 'participation and growth' remit, will become uncomfortably aware that to date the ECB do not know how many adults 'participate' in the game and there appears to be no 'growth'. It cannot be established whether numbers are increasing or decreasing beyond statistical projections. While playing popularity does seem to be diminishing, by how much can only be an educated guess. The National Cricket Conference's efforts to assist the counting process has made only limited headway. For example, efforts in one crucial area - creating dialogue with the Asian cricket community – has received only slow and lukewarm support from the ECB.
Dwyer, a keen club cricketer himself in Melbourne, has been involved in the amateur game for more than 30 years as a player, coach and administrator and is currently chairman of one of Australia’s largest junior cricket associations.
In March Dwyer helped roll out Cricket Australia’s school sport programme, a major government-backed initiative. The launch in Sydney was attended by Australia's captain Steve Smith and Susan Ley, the Minister for Health and Sport, with the aim of encouraging more children to play cricket in school.
Cricket Australia started 76 schemes nationally – apparently the largest pilot of any sport over there – so that about 1,824 children could participate. Ms Ley said: “We know it’s vitally important that we help children right across Australia develop healthy and active lifestyles early in life. This is particularly important considering one in four children are now overweight or obese.”
The British Government would echo her sentiments, though perhaps less loudly and with less funding than the ECB and the recreational cricket community would like. She added: “We want Australian kids to benefit from the positive health and well-being outcomes that come from an active lifestyle and especially through sport.”
At the launch Dwyer mentioned a long-lasting cricket legacy. “Sporting Schools brings schools and sports together to deliver quality sporting programs and inspire primary school students to develop a lifelong interest in sport,” he said.
In 2013 Dwyer pointed out in a media interview that the 2011 Australian census showed that 26 per cent of the population had been born abroad, with many other people having at least one overseas-born parent. The born-abroad figure was due to rise to 40 per cent by 2015, and he said that Cricket Australia had programmes in place. “We will benefit from having players in the national team which will reflect multicultural Australia and increase the diversity of our game,” he said.
While English cricket has whole-heartedly embraced a multi-cultural identity, some would argue there is some way still to go. Simon Prodger, the National Cricket Conference chief executive, said that the drive to increase cricket in state schools had only been partially successful. "While charities such as Chance To Shine have done excellent work in coaching and energising, schools are still not investing in pitches and facilities. Clubs with limited resources are having to provide the back-up, which cannot be wholly satisfactory."