The White Stuff: What does the future hold for Saturday League cricketers?

Can Saturday cricket get back to what it used to be?
Can Saturday cricket get back to what it used to be?
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Sports editor Ed White discusses what can be done to stop local league cricket facing more years of toil.

It has been no secret that our Saturday Cricket Leagues are under increased pressures of participation.

Certainly, captains from across the region will be frantically scrambling through their contact books over the summer holidays hoping to fill the 11 spaces in their teams.

It is inevitable that some will run out of phone numbers, and teams will be fielding sides of eight, nine or 10 men.

Worse still, there will be a spate of matches handed over to the opposition and a prepared wicket left unused on a beaming hot Saturday afternoon.

There is a feeling that the Ashes summer is a last hope to channel young people’s attentions into turning their arm over and appreciate the nuances of the longer format of the game.

But where have all the cricketers gone?

Is it simply a case that people are too busy in their lives to commit to a long season? Are junior cricketers not progressing into the senior game enough?

Or is it a lack of energy behind clubs and leagues to embrace new technologies and rebrand their ideas and regulations whilst still holding popular traditions?

Clearly there is not just one answer, and I have seen several instances of all three of the above failings. For me, the club spirit in cricket is something that no other sport presents – and it’s something that seems to be waning where clubs are hitting a rut. Winning and losing as a team, socialising afterwards, and developing a friendship as a group of players. That is what cricket is.

Enjoyment, pure enjoyment.

When that is lost, players flitter away too freely. And with more people on the move around the country through work and university, the loss of players out of the game seems to be a one-way valve.

So what can change?

I have seen the transformation of many leagues into the digital age, and players desperate to see how their rivals have got on as soon as matches finish.

More so, players have averages of all players at their fingertips and more and more conversations are built around those records and statistics.

The Nidderdale League has been one to embrace new technologies, develop player statistics and there seems a genuine energy behind the league to encourage debate, participation and enthusiasm in the sport. But the digital transformation of information is still much slower than it should be across the board.

The junior drop off rate is highly surprising, especially with the amount of junior cricket and summer camps on offer.

That has arrived, though, with the ‘instant’ change of culture in Britain. Younger people want everything now, whether that is success or just simply getting a bat and bowl. I have been there, whimpering when on the boundary expecting my turn to have already arrived.

Ten to 20 years ago, young players were privileged to step into the first team of a club and field for 45 to 50 overs.

Bowlers would have spells longer than 20 overs throughout the afternoon, and players waited for their turn in a season.

Now, some young players will go off the scene of a club within one match of not bowling – even if the club win.

I believe leagues need to adapt to this culture shift. There must be more of a development onus in the lower leagues, and it not just coming from the clubs themselves.

I would be in favour of an exciting re-design to see two-innings Twenty20 fixtures – offering youngsters that second chance to bat at an early age, and more players an opportunity to affect a match with the ball.

Clearly, there would need to be provisions. It won’t excite everyone, and there would be many stalwarts critical of an idea where they can’t bat out 45 overs at less than a run an over.

But something must be done to create excitement to the new era, and cope with the changing trends of the culture of youngsters to get them into the club spirit.

It may well only be a format for young or partial cricketers or even in cup competitions – but it could create an energy to the game that seems so lacking.

What do you think can be done to protect the future of Saturday cricket? How should leagues be encouraging participation?

Contact Ed White on ed.white@jpress.co.uk or Tweet @EdWhite2507