Today, new writer Will Wright reminds us how important it is to a cricketer’s development to play club cricket with adults. English cricket would be a failure without our amateur game.
When I was 16, I got my first call-up to the local club’s second team. A mild July morning and a dry summer created the conditions for the best batting conditions, which meant I was pushed to the line of fire after winning the opening shot. After the first few tense moments, some boundaries calmed the nerves, and it wasn’t long before I was in my groove. Some friendly bowling and a burnt outfield helped me rattle the early game and nailed my half century with a high straight six off the spinner before the drink.
Needless to say, I’m delighted with the way things are going and I try in vain to hide the smile that breaks out on my face as I sheepishly accept applause from my teammates. Not long after I came out, I lost form on a botched attempt to get back to my max from the last time. Despite the unsightly end of my innings, I left my first foray into second-team cricket quite satisfied, basking in the warm welcome of my team-mates as I strolled to the dressing room.
However, this proved short-lived as I turned the corner and entered our dirty, damp dressing room. My smug mood was immediately shattered by the comically menacing and unsmiling presence of our 6ft 7in opening bowler, glaring in my direction. ‘What the fuck did you do for you stupid bastard’.
Flashy 50s don’t win universal recognition, let alone a game, and that was one of the many lessons I learned from age-group cricket in the early stages of my degree. These are lessons that many youngsters have been unable to learn this summer as the mandatory cricket suspension continues. However, it’s not all due to the coronavirus. 40% of young players in the UK quit football by the age of 19.
This loss is devastating on so many levels, not least because dropping the game at such a young age deprives young players of the opportunity to combine their energy and enthusiasm with the rough cricketing knowledge and experience that can be passed on by Older but not always grumpy players carry on.
Youth cricket progresses in a relatively linear fashion, with bowlers getting faster and batsmen hitting harder, while the adult game exposes you to kaleidoscopic techniques and methods of play. You walk in, imagining yourself facing an influx of roaring, fast bowlers that tickle your ribs, but quickly realize that a buxom middle-aged Dobbler bowling with beat accuracy is a much scarier prospect.
If your preconceived notion of an effective run scorer is a hitter with a fluid cover drive and refined backfoot play, soften your attack when the opposing Trojan 3 unleashes a series of hacks and nurdles , you will be shocked.
Faced with the variety of opponents, not to mention the variety of situations you may face around the club ground, the emphasis shifts from technical ability to mental agility and adaptability to find a consistent approach. At a time when queuing age groups are focused on instilling faith in technology, cricket clubs offer a refreshingly profane shot.
However, the value of playing the adult game goes beyond cricket’s advantages. Never before in any sport have so many generations played together on one team. For players with enough appetite for the game, cricket is less physically demanding and can carry their careers into their fifties and sixties. This allows for a vast amount of cricketing knowledge to be transmitted between club teams and also for intergenerational connections that are rare in other aspects of modern society.
Add to that the amount of time that cricket requires you to spend with your teammates. Small talk can get you through 90 minutes of Sunday League, but it won’t get you through 50 minutes if you’re watching from the border. Having the extra time to get to know a teammate’s outlook on life can be just as educational as taking their blunt cricket advice. Because of this, cricket can develop friendships beyond those typically forged in sporting settings, which explains why the failure of these relationships is all the more dramatic.
Being able to communicate and connect with older generations is an invaluable skill that has never been more important in our current state of political and cultural division. It would certainly be an overstatement to say that club cricket can be the balm we need to soothe wounded intergenerational ties, but cricket’s social benefits are often overlooked.
Cricket needs more young players entering the adult game; it would be a disaster if the cessation of club cricket meant entire classes missed out on this summer’s eye-opening and sometimes confusing adult game.