For more than a century, enterprising Australians have embraced innovative ways to hone their skills and heighten their passion for cricket, the country’s truly national sport.
Don Bradman famously employed a cricket stump, a golf ball and the infinite uncertainties provided by the rounded brick base beneath a galvanised iron rainwater tank on the back porch of his family’s home in Bowral to become the greatest batsman the game has known.
Belinda Clark, the first Australian to score a one-day international double century, believed her talents would remain confined to her backyard and cameos with the boys’ team at her Newcastle primary school until she reached high school and discovered – to her delight and the nation’s good fortune – that there were competitive teams for girls as well.
And even after his key role in delivering Australia the Ashes last summer, Mitchell Johnson could be found at his local Perth park bowling to nothing more than a set of stumps in an empty net, with red adhesive tape to pinpoint the areas of the pitch he wanted to hit.
But with the growing range of programs and opportunities to make the game even more accessible to aspiring players of all ages, genders and cultural backgrounds, cricket has clearly established itself as Australia’s number one participation sport.
The 2013-14 National Cricket Census, conducted by independent research firm Street Ryan and released today as part of Cricket Australia’s PlayCricket Week, reveals that more than 1.1 million Australians were involved in playing cricket in some capacity during the previous summer.
That represents a record level of participation for the sport, with the number of people taking part at their local grounds, schools and indoor centres growing by 16 per cent on the previous year’s turn-out and crowning a total increase of 30 per cent over the past four years.
Which equates to growth of more than a quarter of a million additional cricketers throughout Australia since 2010-11, with the breakdown of those who took up bat and ball last summer as follows:
- 537,000 School participants
- 400,000 Club/community participants
- 169,000 Indoor participants
The fact that those numbers include a 39 per cent increase in female participation to a total of 247,000 participants (22 per cent of all cricketers nationwide) was undoubtedly driven in part by the outstanding performances of the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars.
The Australian women captured their third consecutive ICC World T20 title at the global tournament in Bangladesh earlier this year, which followed their Ashes tussle against England that drew huge interest.
Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland also welcomed the survey findings that showed a 30 per cent increase in school participation (driven by programs such as MILO in2CRICKET Skills, MILO T20 Blast School Cups and MILO Active After School Care) and an eight per cent increase in traditional club cricket.
At a time when increased time demands and diversity of choices have impacted on participation numbers of many sports, the fact that club cricket numbers experienced their biggest single-year percentage growth in more than five years (taking total participation to 337,000) underscored cricket’s appeal Australia-wide.
“Our vision is for cricket to be Australia’s favourite sport and a sport for all Australians,” Sutherland said.
“To do that, our job is to encourage more people to play the game.
“As simple as that may sound, we know that in this day and age there are plenty of obstacles and many things competing for people’s time.
“That’s why these figures are so pleasing.
“To register a 30 per cent increase in participation over four years demonstrates the game’s growing appeal and the critical role it plays in helping men, women and children lead active and healthy lives.
“To do this at a time when match attendances, television ratings and commercial partnerships are at record levels, demonstrates that our strategy is paying dividends with the foundations of the game incredibly strong.
“We are particularly pleased to see such a dramatic increase in female participation, with girls and women now making up 22 per cent of all cricket participants around the country.
“This growth is reflective of the incredible work of state and territory staff and the ongoing enhancement of national programs which continue to provide kids with safe and enjoyable physical activity.
“It’s also clear that our elite men’s and women’s cricketers are doing an excellent job inspiring the next generation of players across the country.”
Sutherland also welcomed the support that cricket had received from the Australian Sports Commission which has enabled 18 Participation Growth Officers to help deliver grassroots programs such as MILO in2CRICKET and MILO T20 Blast at hundreds of schools and community centres throughout Australia since 2011.
Among the current Australian players to have graduated to international level from MILO in2CRICKET are Test and ODI captain Michael Clarke, Jess Cameron, Mitchell Starc, Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry.
Perry is also one of a number of national stars who have lent their time and expertise to produce video master classes that will be available through cricket.com.au this week.
Quick Single: Shaun Marsh Master Class
Quick Single: Phil Hughes Master Class
The success of cricket’s greater visibility and accessibility are highlighted in the 12th iteration of the Census that showed that almost a quarter of the nation’s club cricketers now come from a multicultural background, 1.6 per cent identify as indigenous and two per cent as having a disability.
CA’s partnership with School Sport Australia, which includes working closely with state and territory school bodies to embed cricket into schools, has also played a significant role in the participation growth with Australian primary and secondary students.
To help build further on the impressive participation results recorded over recent years, Australia’s State and Territory Cricket Associations are actively supporting PlayCricket Week which is designed to ensure as many people as possible across the nation can embrace the game.
PlayCricket Week will involve events and announcements highlighting the different formats and programs offered through cricket including, Indigenous programs, women’s cricket and all abilities Cricket.
“PlayCricket Week is all about inspiring people across the nation to get involved in cricket, no matter who they are and where they come from; a philosophy that has been embraced by Australians who are now participating in various forms of cricket en masse,” Sutherland said.