What began as a pilot program to test modified cricket rules will become a nationwide revolution this summer as almost 65 per cent of Australian associations adopt the junior format shaping the sport’s future.
In what ex-Australian captain Greg Chappell describes as a critical direction junior cricket needs to take, 160 of the country’s 247 associations have opted to introduce radical rule changes for children in a bid to increase participation and player retention.
The majority of youngsters will pursue their craft under modified rules this summer as part of a staged roll out of the junior format concept, playing on shorter pitches with smaller equipment and alongside fewer teammates.
Last season’s pilot program, trialled across 15 associations, produced significant increases in boundaries struck, runs scored and wickets taken, and perhaps most crucially a reduction in the number of wides and no balls bowled.
“There are an inordinate number of kids that want to play our game and a lot of them we’ve scared off over the years because we’ve made the game too difficult,” Chappell said.
“We haven’t made it enough fun, we haven’t developed their passion early by giving them a memorable experience.
“The different formats are about compressing the game, increasing the number of moments that they’re involved in the game, handling the ball, bowling the ball, hitting the ball because that’s how you learn.
“It’s not about developing a technique, it’s about developing a love, developing a passion and the desire to want to get out there and keep trying to get better at it.”
Chappell knows first-hand just how many youngsters walk away from the sport. His son Jon, a talented cricketer in his own right, gave up the sport in favour of baseball in the 1990s.
A Cricket Australia roadshow four years ago asked fans across the country to outline their major concerns surrounding the sport and overwhelmingly, retention of players reared its head as a major issue.
Dr Ian Renshaw, father of Test opener Matthew and a lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology in human movement and sports science, was enlisted and he began a comprehensive biomechanical testing exercise.
Two hundred children in each age group, including boys, girls, cricketers and non-cricketers were put through their paces and tested on how far they could hit, bowl and throw a ball.
Data collected helped form the basis of the junior format modifications which kick in at under-nine level where youngsters play on a pitch of 14m in length with up to eight children per team, and with a 30m boundary.
Those restrictions are slowly relaxed as juniors age before they move onto a full-length pitch at under-14s.
“For 150, 200 years, maybe 400 years, we’ve been playing cricket off one measurement which happens to be the old term for a length of measurement for a field,” Cricket NSW development manager Nail McDonald said.
“So 22 yards, 66 feet, one chain. It was determined by some pastor back in the 16th century.
“There were more runs scored, more action in the field [last summer]. Kids rotating [strike] quicker, games finished in two hours instead of three and a half hours.
“It seems to have been well received so far and this year will prove the point.
“We went really hard at filling the bucket and somewhere along the way, there’s people that drop off the journey.
“I know it happens in all sports and cricket’s no different. We’d like to think out of this that we haven’t got as many holes in the sieve moving forward.”
Australia is not alone in the take up of junior format cricket.
In June this year former Australian women’s captain Belinda Clark and CA manager in junior formats Harry Tinney crossed the Tasman and presented their case to the Kiwis.
New Zealand will roll out pilot programs of their own this summer, with a view to a 100 per cent take-up over the next few years.
Tinney hopes Australia will also hit 100 per cent participation in the coming years.
“That’s the aspiration, our hope is that it becomes junior cricket,” Tinney said.
“We’re allowing junior cricketers to progress through a staged model that allows them to perform the skills that they see on television and see when they watch elite cricketers. They can do that under a staged model as they progress towards what is the traditional adult game.
“It’s evidence based, tested, proven and combined with the community buy in and as a result we’ve had such a significant take-up.”
Age: Under 11 Pitch length: 16m Players per team: 7 Overs per team: 20 (max) Boundary: 40m Ball size: 125-142g
Age: Under 13 Pitch length: 18m Players per team: 9 Overs per team: 30 (max) Boundary: 45m Ball size: 142g
Age: Under 14-19 Pitch length: 20m Players per team: 11 Overs per team: 40 (max) Boundary: 50m Ball size: 156g (male) 142g (female)
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.