Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 22nd May 2024

Dwyer bales out with his projects unfulfilled

By Charles Randall

1 May 2018

The resignation of the ECB's director of "growth and participation" at the start of the cricket season after only three years came as a surprise.

Matt Dwyer took a tennis administration job back in his home town Melbourne before he could convert fine words into positive results. He was hired primarily to set up All Stars Cricket, an initiative to attract  five to eight year-olds into the game, but the effectiveness of the scheme remained open to question.

The main criticism was probably that the ECB chose  too many 'soft' targets.  All Stars Cricket was launched in many cases at established clubs, who agreed to help these children knowing their own youth sections had more than enough 10 and 11 year-olds already interested in the game. Wimbledon CC, Dwyer's home club while his family were based in London, would be one such example.

More productive would have been a focus on inner city schemes and linking with various asian communities, but Dwyer was seen rarely, if at all, visiting such fertile areas. In 2018, just as the Australian departs, the ECB have acted on suggestions by the National Asian Cricket Council to bring  All Stars Cricket to parks in mainly asian suburbs.

The National Asian Cricket Council, an arm of the increasingly influential National Cricket Conference, has targeted Birmingham, Slough, Bradford and Luton as a starting point. At Slough, for example,  the town's eight South East Asian League clubs have been invited to bring their families to a school location for an All Stars Cricket taster on Wednesday, May 9, before the regular Sunday morning roll-out in mid-June at various parks for eight  weeks.

The Berkshire Cricket Foundation has become involved, and the general idea is for these children and families, where possible, to remain in the parks after Sunday morning All Stars to watch the adult afternoon matches. This should encourage better integration and access to youth sections of mainstream clubs. Slough CC will be hosting their own weekly All Stars scheme on eight Friday evenings from June 1.

The drive for better Asian integration has not been confined to All Stars Cricket, as the National Cricket Conference has been assisting the Home Office with an anti-radicalisation  scheme called Character Through Cricket, an educational programme aimed at young people initially in the Birmingham area.

Dwyer built his reputation in Australia by attracting more children into cricket through the MILO scheme.  In an  interview for ESPN cricinfo late in 2015, his first year, he was looking at club cricket.  "We need to make the game more relevant to different communities," he said. "Clubs are our number two distribution channel, so they have to be a big part of this strategy. The challenge is to get clubs to see the benefits of growth."

Dwyer added: "In certain parts of the country, everyone having a pint afterwards will still be representative of the cricket that is played, in other parts of the country it isn't, and clubs have to be aware of that changing landscape;  otherwise they will wither on the vine. That is a scary kind of predicament we face."

After the end of the 2017 season the ECB announced that about 37,000 children had been enrolled in the first year of the All Stars scheme, with a further 20,000 so far signed up for 2018. But Dwyer failed to make these statistics relevant to the council parks in places such as Birmingham or Bradford in his three years with the ECB.

The fee for each child in the eight-week All Stars programme  remains a minimum £40 for 2018,  with £5 of that going back to the hosting club. All the children receive a backpack of cricket items, including a plastic bat and soft ball.

Dwyer stressed the importance of unifying the game,  and he wanted to simplify a complicated "supply chain" from Lord's through to clubs. "All the pieces of the puzzle are there," he said. "They have just all been thrown on to the page."

As a newcomer, he queried whether the governance structure of cricket was effective, and many would agree with him when he said:  "There is crossover, with the same question being answered 39 different times across county cricket boards. We need to clarify the roles we all play for the good of cricket in this country and not spend every minute of the day competing in areas we don't actually have to compete on."

Visionary or not, Dwyer had suggestions for making cricket more accessible, perhaps through earlier scheduled finishes in club matches and ground-sharing with schools, for example.

The ECB paid tribute to Dwyer for his influence in the launch of the new-team T20, due to start in 2020, but he returns to Australia before making much impact on recreational cricket, the cornerstone of his growth and participation job title.

For the ECB, a problem is that they still do not know how many people play cricket - they can make only a calculated guess - so the figures for measuring growth tend to be selective and open to interpretation. Any All Stars impetus might fizzle out unless there is a concerted effort, especially in the Asian sector.