Accessibility, Talent Management and Broader Incentives
Don’t blame the Hundred. The Ashes debacle in England took years to prepare; the Hundred only launched five months ago.
Furthermore, it shows a lack of ambition to suggest that England, with their financial resources and pool of players, cannot simultaneously be one of the best nations in the world in white and red ball games. New Zealand has five million inhabitants against 59 million in England and Wales; their cricket board has an annual income of £27.5 million, compared to £273 million for the England & Wales Cricket Board. Yet New Zealand became the first Test world champions while reaching the last World Cup final in the one-day and Twenty20 internationals.
Improving access to the game
Cricket in England is not a democratic sport. Children attending private schools are 13 times more likely to become professional cricketers than those attending public schools, research by Tom Brown, performance cricket coach at Warwickshire County Cricket Club and researcher on talent identification.
Access to professional gambling is closely linked to the player’s socio-economic situation. As the sports facilities of the main private schools have become more extraordinary – Millfield School has different nets which replicate Australian, English and Indian conditions – the benefits for aspiring cricketers of attending such schools have multiplied. In departmental academies, youth coaches often also offer private sessions and are strongly suspected – consciously or unconsciously – of favoring children who pay for these additional sessions.
As recent testimony from Azeem Rafiq and others has demonstrated, players from ethnic minorities have also suffered from another barrier to realizing their potential: racism. Around a third of England’s base players are of British South Asian descent. Yet while 19 per cent who play in the U16-U19 academies in top-class counties are British South Asians, only 6 per cent of qualified professional players in England are, according to Brown. Even when British South Asian players are in county academies, they are three times more likely to become professional players than white British players in county academies.
Players who are both ethnic minorities and who attend public schools face a double disadvantage. Children are 34 times more likely to play professional cricket if they are white British and privately educated, rather than British South Asian and state educated, Brown calculates. Black cricketers also continue to face deep barriers: in London, children are 13 times more likely to be selected for a county talent run at U10 to U15 level if they are white rather than black.
The effect of these inequalities shows up on the test team – particularly among batsmen, who tend to develop earlier than bowlers. In the last decade, 77% of batsmen who made their England debut in the last decade went to private school, although some of those players – like Joe Root – received partial or full sports scholarships .
The challenge of improving access to play is multi-layered, especially since children in private schools play about twice as much sport per week as those in public schools. But increased investment and support for cricket in state schools and organizations catering to marginalized cricketing communities – such as the ACE program and the South Asian Cricket Academy – represent the best chance of increasing cricket’s talent pool. English.
Improve the quality of County Championship Cricket
Amid the debris of England’s mistreatment in Melbourne, Joe Root has stressed the need for the Test team to follow the ‘reset’ in the one-day squad following the 2015 World Cup humiliation.
The paucity of County Championship cricket at the height of summer has often been lamented. This problem will be partially solved in 2022, when there will be three sets of matches in July. Greater sanctioning of pitches that offer stitching motion, as advocated by Surrey assistant coach Gareth Batty, could also better help replicate Test conditions in County play.
Yet batting conditions in the County Championship last year were still good enough for Ollie Pope – whose home ground, The Oval, most closely resembles conditions in Australia – to hit two gargantuan centuries. League games at the height of summer are actually less successful than previous ones: since 2015, the average number of runs per wicket peaks at 32 in April, then drops with each passing month. Short matches mean that spinners are sidelined every month: in July, spinners are still only making 26% of overs.
All of this suggests that playing more league games in the height of summer will not be the panacea. More important is the quality of the games.