Club Cricket Conference

Tuesday, 25th February 2020

Gurney's short idea unlikely to halt falling numbers

By Charles Randall

11 March 2019

All  club cricket should be played as 20 overs to increase participation. That suggestion was how the Nottinghamshire left-arm seamer Harry Gurney started a wide-ranging debate in his recent tweet,  prompting the National  Cricket Conference themselves to start trawling opinion among players.

But Simon Prodger,  managing director of the National Cricket Conference ,  reckons that the introduction of 20-over cricket as a blanket format to redress falling numbers would have the opposite effect.

Prodger said: "I would hazard that almost all recreational players playing 1st X1 league cricket would be against reducing their cricket to 20 overs. This simply doesn’t allow for all members of the team to engage in more than one skill - most would only field, and I think we would see an accelerated reduction in regular players were we to move to T20 as our principle format of cricket."

"However, there is absolutely no reason and perhaps less desire from the participants, for lower team cricket to ape the higher end of the club game. Perhaps leagues should consider 40 over cricket from second team downwards."

From tweets made in response to Gurney, there were strident voices from competitive league players and time-poor enthusiasts, raising the legitimate question whether clubs did indeed offer enough for the time-poor sector. 

Gurney, 32, a Leeds University graduate with 10 England ODI caps and two T20 appearances, seemed convinced that the short format would lead to increased participation at grass roots level. "More exciting for younger generations and done and dusted in three hours, so people who work long hours can enjoy family time at weekends alongside it," he said.

Gurney added later:  "My belief is that ultimately red ball cricket will cease to exist anyway. And probably sooner than people think. I would also question how much a 40-50 over game prepares a youngster for a future in Test cricket. County cricket does that."

Mark Butcher and Stuart Broad discussed this on Sky Television, hosted by Ian Ward, with Butcher recalling  the "unbelievable frustration" during his time at Cheam CC on occasions when playing for draws.  He preferred limited overs. "50 overs is a long enough game. Anything longer that, I don't think there is any need for it."

Broad said it was about the fun of playing and that clubs were not necessarily looking for  "the next Joe Root".  He emphasised the point also made by Prodger that the problem with 20-over cricket was that there was a higher chance of a player not batting or bowling and  thus wondering what he was doing there.

Ward said there had been a decline in the 20-30 age group playing club cricket and suggested: "If it was short, fun, played from 12 until 3 with barbecue afterwards and a beer or two, that would encourage the enjoyment factor."

Butcher agreed that the social aspect was important, but he added:  "I would be very very concerned if all weekend cricket was turned into something based around  barbecues. People play the game for all kinds of different reasons. Some people take cricket very seriously either with a view to becoming professional or even because just how competitive they are and that is what they like to do over a weekend."

Butcher, whose father Alan played for Addiscombe CC, added: "There are many elements to this, but there is definitely space for shorter formats, giving people the choice." Perhaps the word 'choice' was the most telling point in the debate.

Prodger said: "Core cricketers are falling in number and playing less cricket per season. However, this might be more prescient within the lower sides of a club than at first-team level. As per the Herts League, shorter formats of the game should be played by lower teams in lower divisions and the divisions themselves localised, to reduce travel time and so on."

The Watford Town CC stalwart added:  "Club cricket should be a means to its own end and celebrated as such. There are very many players who are serious about their cricket at club level and wish to play a format that is close to the elite game, with 50-over cricket the most obvious parallel."

"The debate didn’t begin to touch on other issues that effect players’ attitudes to availability; we know as a society we are time poor, which means that cricketers might not play every week of the season as we once did. However, this would be the case irrespective of the format of cricket being played. Major issues that we know influence participants are travel time to and from games,  discipline and behaviour, and distance to games."

It could be added that many middle ability youth players in the club system become disillusioned with 20-overs age-group games at an early age, all too aware of the limited batting and bowling opportunities.