By Richard Edwards
9 June 2020
Could Covid-19 have a transformative impact on youth cricket? It’s certainly possible as clubs up and down the country look to embrace innovation in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
The youth cricket calendar has traditionally been governed by school term dates, with the season beginning shortly after the Easter break and then finishing in line with the start of the summer holidays.
All of which means cricket is generally packed into three months, with almost the entire month of August written off.
The chances are that that won’t happen this summer, so as long as recreational cricket gets the green light to resume, then there’s every chance that the usually fallow months of August and September could look very different for youth cricketers from Cornwall to Cumbria.
Planning is already underway for when that call comes from, with friendly matches likely to replace any significant competitive action. The hosting of festivals that bring clubs from across the counties together, though, should ensure that an edge is maintained.
As Colin Smith, the general secretary of Winchester Warriors Junior Cricket Association in Hampshire acknowledges, however, the most important thing is that children of all ages are able to play the sport before the summer, or autumn in this case, is out.
“The implications (of no cricket) are quite serious,” he says. “Quite apart from losing the momentum that we managed to gather around the World Cup last year, the likelihood is if there is little or as good as no cricket for juniors this year, we will lose 10, 20 or even 30% of the children or young people who are involved youth cricket.
“Those who are convinced already and have experienced the thrill, the buzz and everything else that comes with being in a team environment, most of them will remain. But then you’ve also got that 15, 16 and 17-year-old age brackets who are moving onto different colleges or universities next year, so that will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect too.”
At a time when English cricket was desperately hoping to build and capitalise on everything the 2019 World Cup and Ashes delivered, that could represent a devastating blow.
Plans are already afoot for a more comprehensive indoor season – Covid-19 allowing – if outdoor cricket is decimated. But indoor six-a-side matches will always struggle to match the competitive nature of longer matches on grass.
Which is where the thinking that may govern the rest of the 2020 has the potential to shape junior cricket policy moving forward.
“We’re working on some festival days in late July and August when clubs have told us that they expect to have lots of players around,” says Smith. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed on that. I think this might prompt a rethink about when the season finishes and I really hope it does.
“Winchester Warriors have considered how we can ensure there is some cricket for youngsters in August, as well as up until the end of July. It just could be that there’s that little silver-lining. If we get lots of cricket this August then it will demonstrate that it’s possible.
"Many families will want to go on holidays in August and that’s completely understandable but even if we were able to run half the number of teams for half the number of matches in 2021 then that would be really good, a real silver-lining, we would be delighted with that.”
Winchester is just one of a number of areas currently planning to stretch out the youth cricket calendar to September this year and the success or otherwise of that, not just on the south coast but around the country, could have long-lasting implications in the future.
With school cricket commitments out of the way and given the rising summer temperatures, it’s not inconceivable that a previously constricted summer schedule could end up being something far longer for young cricketers.
A permanent switch to a September finish may be difficult for some, particularly as the football season begins and players have to make a choice between both sports. Those clubs that share their facilities with other sports may also find pitches harder to come by as the nights close in.
But if the summer of 2020 ends up becoming something approximating a scheduling success then there are clearly benefits for youth cricket moving forward.
All we need now is that green light from the government and the ECB. And for the sun to stay exactly where it is.