Advertisement

Australia stars back junior overhaul

James Pattinson and Elyse Villani endorse new junior formats designed to get players more involved in the game

James Pattinson and Elyse Villani drew upon the frustrations they experienced as junior cricketers who played during the traditional 11-a-side era to explain why they've embraced the opportunity to be ambassadors for Australian cricket's junior formats.

The junior formats Levels 1 and 2 are being rolled out across Australia after a successful pilot program that was staged throughout 2016-17 in which junior cricketers played on grounds with shorter pitches, smaller boundaries and less fielders.

The results of the changes were deemed 'incredible' by analysts who studied the streams of data taken from 6126 innings.

The analysts who worked for Australian cricket – the collaboration of Cricket Australia, the states and territories – found such things as a 43 per cent increase in runs off the bat, 66 per cent more boundaries, a 35 per cent decrease in wides and sundries, and a 53 per cent surge in balls that were bowled on a good length.

While Pattinson and Villani said the statistics tell of a fast-moving, action-packed game, they were impressed by attending matches where children were getting a fairer go to bat and bowl and were having fun while throwing themselves into the game.

Pattinson, Villani ambassadors for junior formats

"The reason why I've decided to be the ambassador for Australian cricket's junior formats program is because I remember when I was a six-year-old playing and I was playing under-12s and didn't really get much of a go," said Pattinson, who is on the comeback trail from a back injury.

"I managed to face a couple of balls one day and then I was out... I spent a lot of time sitting around, but looking at the new formats it's great to see the kids run around and how much involvement they have."

"By getting the opportunity to actually get confidence by playing, and not feeling like you can't do it (is important).

"I think the big thing with this game is it gives you confidence to do well, and I know I've seen a lot of kids running around and saying 'I've got three or four wickets' or 'I've smacked a four' and they're things, where, maybe if they were playing a different format of the game that they wouldn't quite get with the boundaries – and the wicket – being a bit bigger.

"It's great to see how much involvement the children have in the (junior formats). They're getting to bat for longer periods of time, getting to bowl, getting to field. The shorter pitches and shorter grounds mean there's a lot of room and it lets them get their hands on the ball, which is great. It's really pleasing to see young kids come along, get involved and really participate."

Villani, who is on tour with the Australian women's team in India, explained why she wished the junior formats were around 17 years ago.

"It's crucial for all kids to be given a go, regardless of their ability, because I can say as a junior cricketer I was not very good at all," she said.

"I don't think many people would have said I'd one day represent Australia.

"I think people develop at different ages and it is really important to make sure all abilities get a go right throughout junior cricket.

"I can definitely understand why junior cricket in the past would frustrate parents and kids alike, and lead to kids giving up the sport. I've gone on record numerous times saying that I'm not sure why I continued playing junior cricket, there was something that really lured me in. I think now there'll be a lot more people sticking with cricket for a lot longer (because of the junior formats)."

While the pair acknowledge cricket is a sport steeped in tradition, they couldn't understand why anyone would oppose a game that's been designed to help children aged between 9-12 to develop better skill sets – and foster a love for the game -  by receiving greater opportunities to face more balls and to also bowl a few overs.

"Everyone is getting a bat, everyone is getting a bowl – there's a lot more fielding going on," said Villani. "I can completely say with confidence that what they're exposed to at their age is a lot more than I was exposed to.

"It looks like a lot of fun, and I sort of wish I was going through my junior cricket again."

Pattinson agreed that exposing young players to the sports three facets of batting, bowling and fielding was vital for player engagement.

Luckless Pattinson reveals why his fire still burns

"What excites me most about the junior formats is the amount of fun the kids are having," he said.

"I've been to a couple of games and seeing the amount of fun they're getting from getting a bowl and batting for longer periods of time.

"It's not great when you go to a junior game and you see a guy who is just sitting there and not getting much of a go. It's probably the worst thing you can see, but to see everyone getting a bowl and the fun they're having is the main thing I like to see." 

New Junior Formats

STAGE 1 (Under 10/11)

Time: 120 mins
Overs per team: Max 20
Pitch Length: 16m
No. of Players: 7
Boundary Maximum: 40m
Ball Size: Modified

STAGE 2 (Under 12/13)

Time: 120 or 180 mins
Overs per team: T20 or max 30
Pitch Length: 18m
No. of Players: 9
Boundary Maximum: 45m
Ball Size: 142g

For more information, visit http://community.cricket.com.au/clubs/junior-formats