A Cricket Bag Of Ideas

Three letters sent to ECB in the wake of the ICEC report in July 2023: no reply to any point received by January 2024

Richard Gould
CEO England and Wales Cricket Board

Dear Richard

I emailed you through the ECB Media office with some proposals for the ECB response to the recent ICEC report. This letter contains some revisions and additions.

Your immediate reaction to the recent ICEC report was rightly welcomed, but you and the ECB now have the devil of a job in making specific and measurable progress on it and within a short time. I have not read the report in full. From what I have read so far, I think that the authors could have done much more to enlist the support and engagement of the existing cricket community of England and Wales, not least in its language, which (in my view as a professional writer) has too much special pleading and sociological gobbeygook. I am strengthened in these views by reading more of the report.

What follows is a collection of personal suggestions to help achieve the high-level objective shared by the report’s authors and the ECB: making English and Welsh cricket truly representative of their whole nations and accessible and welcoming to all potential participants.

They are top-of-the-head suggestions without a strong evidence base (although informed by my experience as a player and watcher of cricket in 20 countries and as a cricket writer and historian). I am certain that the ECB and counties and individual clubs are far ahead of me on many of them, but I jot them all down in case they are of direct value or stimulate further thinking.


The ECB might make and repeat three simple points to the English cricket community, especially those sections who have responded indignantly to the report.

1) Cricket, like all sports, now operates in a very crowded and competitive leisure market. Within such a market it is fatal for any sport to be identified as the preserve of a privileged community, even if there are enough members of such a community to keep it alive. Such exclusion becomes self-perpetuating, the sport disappears from general public view and it fails to attract any new generations or offer them the chance of a professional career. [One could add: its administrators become more and more amateur and cranky.]

2) Thousands of volunteers give their time and often their money every week to provide access to cricket in a safe environment for children who might otherwise be excluded from it. These volunteers are betrayed by every instance of racism, sexism, snobbery and prejudice in the world of cricket.

3) Like it or not, English cricket cannot live solely on the income generated by its participants. For years it has needed outside income. It must be a “product” which outside sponsors and advertisers are proud of. None want their brand associated with racism, sexism, snobbery and prejudice [or indeed bad onfield behaviours].

The ECB and inclusion

4) The ECB should establish a specific Inclusion Unit and set measurable goals for it to achieve in participation in English cricket for all the groups now excluded from it (including LGBTQ and disabled people). It should compare these participation rates regularly with those of other sports.

5) The Unit should administer grants to all clubs and other organizations which achieve special success in promoting inclusivity. It might include automatic rewards for the engagement of children in receipt of free school meals. The prime judges of such grants should of course be from those groups now most excluded.

6) The Unit should encourage the media to promote inclusivity in cricket. I am certain that the Cricket Writers Club would assist this, and promote awards for journalists who report it and also for those who do most to combat racial, gender and class stereotyping in cricket.

7) A small step but the ECB should create extra income and recognition for cricket coaches who can coach in a foreign language, as well as umpires and other officials who are proficient in a foreign language (including Welsh.)

8) The ECB should encourage all cricket clubs to make contact with local faith groups. I say this as a secular atheist, but it is a quick way to encourage access to the game in many minority communities. Clubs will have to take great care in this if they contact groups with exclusionist views.

9) The ECB should encourage all cricket clubs to offer a safe place for children to meet under supervision and carry out purposeful activity, even if it is not cricket (eg a homework club).

The ECB and the education system

Present constraints on public expenditure will last a long time and offer almost no hope of new public provision for cricket in state schools. But the ECB could take some steps to help this:

10) Collect, collate and publish every scrap of evidence that playing cricket is beneficial for children’s general education, character and welfare. All sport achieves this but emphasize what makes cricket so special particularly
– Its unique combination of sequential solo skills (bowling then batting then fielding) with team work
– Its need for so many forms of different thinking (immediate decision making, medium-term tactics, long-term strategy)
– Its demand for empathy with partners and team mates
– Its demands for patience and calm to achieve success (many examples of cricket calming damaged children)

11) A curious unintended advantage of cricket over football is that it is now unfamiliar to many children and success in cricket requires mastery of completely new skills.

12) The ECB might offer a pathway for state schools to get the advantages of specialist sports status or academy sports status through cricket. It could set out approval criteria for such status in school cricket programmes, especially in the participation of hard-to-reach children.

13) The ECB might encourage all major clubs to offer local schoolchildren a complete day’s education through cricket, and to give them a chance of work experience or other regular participation in their activities. I know that your former club, Surrey, is very advanced in this, and perhaps others are too. See Appendix A for further suggestions.

14) The ECB should offer automatic registration as young cricket supporters, for nothing or a minimal fee, to all children of school age, divided by primary and secondary age. I have not thought of a name, and in any case it would be better to invite children to come up with their own suggestions and vote on them. Benefits from registration should include free admission to any county ground except on big match days, discounts on cricket equipment, magazines with appropriate content, some created by children (see also Appendix A), contacts with not only top players but also officials, commentators, writers, photographers, a supervised chatroom (which could promote contact with cricketing children overseas, and a pen-pal service, if today’s children still have pen-pals) and competitions with cricket-themed prizes.

15) Independently of 14) I think it would be an excellent idea if all public cricket nets were free to schoolchildren immediately after school hours during the summer.

Assisting curatorship

16) Many public cricket pitches and facilities are poorly maintained not only for lack of funds but also from lack of specialist knowledge. The ECB, counties and major clubs should offer technical help and advice on cricket curatorship to all local authorities.

Attacking the drinking culture in cricket

I strongly support the idea of an independent regulator for cricket. It is unsustainable to combine this task with promoting the game.

17) It would be a tremendous sanction for a regulator to object to the renewal of an alcohol licence (and/or a gaming machine licence) for any club which had failed to combat racist, sexist and other unacceptable exclusionary behaviours by members, whether drink-fuelled or not. I think that prospect would frighten clubs into combatting such behaviours very quickly

18) There is now a strong competitive market in non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits. The ECB and individual clubs should make a special effort to attract their makers as sponsors. A possible slogan (illustrated by a top batter): At last I can drink and drive.

19) I am assuming that registered cricket supporters are disqualified automatically for racist, sexist and other offensive behaviours. But just in case this is not the case, the ECB should provide for this and seek names of offenders from individual clubs.

Cricket and politics

20) England is now governed by a cricket-lover. If the ECB wants anything from government, it might want to act now, while he is still in power, rather than take its chances on Keir Starmer, who is a football-lover with no evident interest in cricket. That said, some of the steps above should appeal to him and Labour politicians as much as to the present government.

21) The ECB might wish to emphasize to all politicians the contribution which Afghan refugees are already making to English cricket.

22) A reformed inclusive game would be a very good means of integrating migrant and marginal communities into English life generally. It could also be a fine advertisement for our country in all of the 175 other countries where some form of cricket is played, and a contributor to British soft power. These points should be made to politicians of all parties.

I am at your disposal and that of the ECB if any of the above points are of interest.

I emailed you and Richard Thompson separately about the ICC and Afghan cricket and would appreciate any reply the ECB is able to give.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Richard Heller
Appendix A

County Cricket clubs and general education

There should be an education hub in every county ground, offering a complete programme of cricket-themed lessons over a day for local schools. With adjustments for the ages of children concerned, cricket clubs could from their own resources offer at least the following subjects:

Written and spoken English: the media office. Children would learn the basics of cricket reporting and commentary (and see below). They would also interview players and staff, and the results would be published.

Other languages: translating cricket materials from English into other locally used languages.

Art and photography: the media office, with help from visiting professionals.

Mathematics, statistics, data analysis: the scorer and any data specialist

History: the museum. Images from the past – changes in players, spectators, grounds and what these show about changes in local society. I am especially keen on this module, as a historian. A sequence of images of the ground in question would be a rich source. Children would be encouraged to look less at the cricket than the spectators. What are they wearing in each generation, and what does it say about them? How much did they pay to get in – and what did this, and membership, take from average earnings? How did they travel to the ground? Of those reading newspapers – what stories were they reading? And so on…

Human relations and psychology: the coaches and captains

Physics: the behaviour of a cricket ball

Biology and chemistry: the ground staff give a master class in soil science and pitch preparation

Domestic science: the cleaners

Maintenance/engineering/lighting: relevant technical staff

Food preparation and hygiene: the catering department

Business studies: the finance department and the administrators

Health: the medical and first-aid staff

And of course, physical education. Under supervision, children would use the nets and facilities.

I think that this too would create lasting relationships between clubs and local children, their families and communities. It could be a source of recruitment.

There should be a contest in each county to find the best under-18 cricket reporter, commentator, analyst, and photographer. I would suggest doing this in two age-groups, under and over 13. The winners would get prizes in cash or kind, but more importantly, their work would be featured by each county in its publishing and media activity, through its match streaming services, and in display and access at each ground. They would each be mentored by a professional in their particular specialism. I think that such a contest would also generate great engagement among local families, communities and schools, and develop new talents in sports media with lasting reasons to be grateful to each county for giving them a start.

Appendix B – supplementary letter of 4 July

I am sorry to trouble you with yet another response to the ICEC report. But I had two further ideas and I hope that they might be of some value to you and the ECB.

A) The ECB should offer to part-fund a Cricket Development Officer working for each local authority responsible for a deprived area. He/she would have broad responsibility for promoting participation in cricket throughout the borough, including the availability of pitches and nets, liaison with all local clubs whatever their scale, and, above all, increasing the connexion of local children with cricket. I hope that the ECB could persuade central government to make some contribution to this (especially under the present cricketloving Prime Minister) and private and charitable funders. Once on offer, this in my view would be hard for any relevant local authority to refuse.

B) Does the ECB hold any information about why people leave cricket as players or officials or other regular contributors? I suspect not and none is cited in the ICEC report other than those who volunteered testimony that they left cricket after encountering racism, sexism and other bad behaviours. A properly structured survey of this issue could be immensely informative and guide future policy. It would be especially revealing to track this in depth for different ages, genders, racial groups, classes, and playing abilities. All respondents to such a survey should be asked whether after leaving cricket they gave the same energy and time to another sport or leisure activity – and if so what attracted them to it?

As an exercise I went through all the first-hand quotations in the report. I would say that over two-thirds of them gave a negative view of English cricket. Some were exceptionally hostile. Nearly all the remainder could be described as neutral. Until the reader reaches section 9.7 he or she will not read a single first-hand tribute to English cricket. I think that this is a serious omission.

Section 9.7 refers to efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in English cricket, especially for children. It is hugely outweighed by the evidence of barriers to inclusion and diversity, especially those arising from systemic racism, sexism, economic bias and personal snobbery. The ICEC’s own figures suggest that hundreds of thousands of people of all ages participate regularly in cricket who are poor, female, or of minority ethnic origin or from other groups under-represented in cricket. But it has not produced a single citation from anyone in those groups who enjoyed cricket and whose life was transformed by it. This is a great gap and it is hard to reconcile this with the report’s title of A Mirror To Cricket. It is a mirror which shows only warts and blemishes. The ECB should seek out urgently and publicize its own evidence of the power of cricket to raise human potential. This is copious, and extends to all participants regardless of class, race or gender.

Section 9.7 deals only with initiatives organized centrally by the ECB or counties or charities such as ChancetoShine. It has not described any local initiatives by clubs and individual volunteers, or their benefits, especially to clubs in terms of playing results, membership and income. This is a great pity because others are not inspired to imitate them. That strengthens my earlier suggestion that the ECB should give money and public recognition to such efforts.

I do not mean to nit-pick about the report, but I feel that it is dangerous for cricket to beat itself up too much. The general public and commercial interests alike will desert any sport which is identified as racist, sexist and snobbish and reports itself as such without giving any counter-evidence of its public benefits.

Hunting might give a warning to cricket. Like cricket hunting had deep historic roots in our country and a rich cultural heritage. It had a strong following and created local employment and activity. But it was perceived as cruel and snobbish – and was therefore legislated out of existence. Cricket (one hopes) would not face such an outright ban. But it could certainly lose all hope of public provision and intervention. Cricket would be told to stand on its own feet and run itself as a purely commercial business.

Appendix C supplementary letter 5 July

I am sorry to trouble you yet again about the ICEC report, but I found one statistic so striking as to be worth interrogating.

4.3.6 For children, this trend was mirrored with those from less affluent groups being least likely to play. In addition, the survey also revealed that whilst 16.8% of children at private schools were playing cricket once a week during school hours, [my emphasis] only 7.2% of children at maintained state schools and 6.2% at academies were doing so (during the academic year 2021-2022).

The bold figure seems very low to me. It means that six out of seven children at private schools do not play cricket. Their parents or carers are paying substantial fees for their education: for them money is no barrier to playing the game. I think it would be worth examining why they are not. Do they (or their parents) prefer other sports? Do schools prefer to teach other sports? And if so, why? One possible explanation may be the recent intake of foreign pupils from non-cricket countries. But I have met a few of these who became enthusiastic cricketers: why are there not more of them? Private schools often boast of their value to British exports of goods and services: if so, why can they no longer export cricket, as they did in Victorian times to Britain’s political and commercial empire?

Since I have written again: one further good point about modern English cricket, unremarked in the ICEC report, is the growth of age-group cricket for older people. There are more and more over-70 sides and I have heard of over-80s as well. It would be worthwhile for the ECB to produce some figures on this to show to policymakers in national and local government. Cricket does offer the chance of long involvement in an outdoor activity. I will celebrate my own “platinum jubilee” next year. One of the great advantages of not being any good to begin with is that you do not notice so much decline.

24. January 2024 by rkh
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