Participation grows as cricket prepares for unique summer
Annual Australian Cricket Census focuses on registered participation in organised competitions, which rose by almost four per cent last season
12 August 2020, 08:34 AM AEST
Facing an Australian summer like none it has previously negotiated, cricket will need a solid and sizeable foundation if it is to absorb the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
And results of the game's annual national census released today provide the game's governors with some comfort, revealing registered participation in organised competitions rose almost four per cent across 2019-20 after three years of decline.
There are myriad reasons for that growth, including the adoption of new formats among junior ranks and the tireless work of volunteers during the previous fire-ravaged summer.
But it also reflects the 'feel good' effect of last winter's ICC World Cup as well as men's and women's Ashes campaigns in the UK, and this year's record-setting women's T20 World Cup in Australia.
The expected flow-on from that event was initially stalled by the coronavirus outbreak, which brought the cancellation of a range of competitions and programs planned for the weeks after 86,000 fans attended the Australia women's team's win in the final at the MCG.
But Belinda Clark, Cricket Australia's Executive General Manager of Community Cricket, believes the strong growth of the game's grassroots coupled with the lessons gleaned from recent winter competitions has cricket well placed to tackle the uncertainties this summer will present.
Cricket has already shown itself to be better suited to current COVID-19 restrictions than winter football codes because it more readily adapts to social distancing practices.
However, there is also a view that the arrival of cricket season might also serve as a harbinger of hope to communities and individuals who have endured months of uncertainty and anxiety wrought by the virus's social and economic impacts.
"Cricket is more than a sport and has a huge role to play in the coming summer to help re-connect communities after a challenging period," Clark said today.
"We understand that there will still be plenty of challenges over the next few months, particularly for our regional clubs, volunteers and participants.
"We’re focused on supporting clubs and volunteers as best as we can, particularly starting the season in a safe manner, as well as providing fun, active, and social opportunities for the community to enjoy.
"Our focus is to continue to support associations, clubs and their local communities, make participation options more enjoyable and accessible and to make volunteering easier, particularly as we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic."
Among the key findings from the annual census, which CA has been collecting for almost two decades, was a 3.8 per cent increase (to 709,957) in registered participants across men's and women's club cricket, social and school competitions, indoor cricket and Woolworths Cricket Blast program.
It also showed:
* Female participation grew 11.4 per cent (year on year) to 76,400
* Woolworths Cricket Blast participation increased 14 per cent to 59,300 participants
* Junior club cricket grew eight per cent to 5,800 in teams for boys aged 12 and under
* Non-club cricket competitions increased 29 per cent to 54,000
* Club cricket saw rises in Indigenous participation (12.6 per cent), multicultural participation (12 per cent) and participation among people living with a disability (10.3 per cent)
The only area of decline across the census's 12-month span was indoor cricket, which has been showing a downward trend but was also most directly affected by the bushfire crisis at the height of summer and the COVID-19 restrictions that followed.
While those headline numbers underpin the largest number of registered participants since 2015-16 – also a year that brought an ICC World Cup win for Australia's men's team as well as men's and women's Ashes in the UK – they also reflect other significant trends.
For example, not only did the rise in female participation lift the proportion of women and girls to almost 11 per cent of all registered participants in Australia, their number has doubled over the past four years.
Furthermore, there has been a 25 per cent increase in girls taking part in Woolworths Cricket Blast (a program teaching basic cricket skills to children aged 5-10 of all abilities) and junior competitions across the nation are introducing a greater number of girls' age-groups.
And in addition to a rise in boys' teams numbers for boys nationally, the retention rate (players returning from the previous year) among juniors rose from 64 per cent to 76 per cent which is a key indicator in CA's ambition to ensure youngsters remain enthused and make the transition to club cricket.
With more than one million children exposed to cricket in some form in the schoolyard (10 per cent increase from 2018-19) the key to keeping many of them in cricket is to ensure coaches have access to the tools and expertise they require, and that players remain engaged and involved.
Increased investment in technology, including CA's MyCricket app, is integral to achieving the former while the latter aspiration has been addressed by the introduction of innovative formats in junior cricket that enable all players to 'have a go' while developing their skills.
The first of those new formats introduced shorter, more accessible competitions into entry-level organised cricket several years ago and has now been adopted by more than 99 per cent of 200 junior associations throughout Australia.
The subsequent roll-out of a second stage for slightly older players has been taken up by around 75 per cent of associations, while the most recent third stage has been adopted by almost 50 per cent.
"These results are testament to the tireless work of our many volunteers around the country and the support States and Territories and CA is providing," Clark said.
"We have experienced an overall increase in the number of teams playing as well as strong interest in Woolworths Cricket Blast (WWCB) registrations.
"I am also thrilled with the continuing growth in female participation across WWCB, junior cricket and senior cricket.
"This result was no doubt helped by a big summer of cricket with the women’s and men’s Ashes and the historic ICC Women’s T20 World Cup victory in March.
"We will soon launch our new female participation strategy to accelerate this momentum.
"Cricket clubs around the country, today more than ever, will become an important place for the community to connect, feel safe and accepted as well as grow the sport we all love."
The methodology CA used to compile the census came under scrutiny last year when The Sydney Morning Herald revealed discrepancies between the number of registered participants and total participants, which includes casual players such as school children in physical education classes.
While maintaining existing counting practices to ensure year-on-year comparisons remain valid, CA has focused on total registered participants (709,957) rather than the combined tally of registered participants and children in school programs (1.77 million).
"CA is committed to improving and evolving the data collection and analysis that underpins the annual Australian Cricket Census," CA said in a statement.
"The 2019-20 census was compiled by the Community Cricket department at Cricket Australia and each State and Territory Cricket association. An independent validation of the process and results was conducted by Street Ryan Consulting.
"The census only includes formal participation in organised competitions and school programs. It does not include participation in cricket activities which do not meet a minimum program requirement of four weeks/games duration.
"The census data will continue to improve with technological advances, specifically the amount of players individually registering on Cricket Australia’s online platform, MyCricket."