International prosperity of the game must benefit club cricket

2009-09-23 00:00

ON the surface, world cricket is in great shape. There is new interest in the game and money is flowing back into the coffers of international cricket like never before.

Unlike other sports, international cricket appears immune to the impact of the recession.

There are a couple of reasons for cricket’s current prosperity. Twenty20 cricket has proved a tremendous catalyst, generating excitement and attracting new fans to the sport in all its forms. The second reason is the resurgence of Indian cricket.

The income that the Indian national team generates through TV rights, advertising and endorsements could probably sustain world cricket for some time.

With the Indians edging ever closer to the number one position in Test and one-day cricket, this prosperity promises to continue. In M. S. Dhoni, India have a maverick for a captain but there is no disputing his popularity throughout the country. Previous captains such as Ganguly and Dravid were never as widely celebrated.

To ensure that cricket continues to prosper, it’s vital that India, under Gary Kirsten and captain Dhoni, maintain this momentum.

The challenge presented by these prosperous times in cricket, is how ­effectively the proceeds filter down to the foundations of the game. Below the surface of international cricket there is much work to be done. Now is the ideal time for the International Cricket Council (ICC) to use the funds at its disposal to develop its cricketing infrastructure and to ­ensure that cricket is healthy from the bottom up.

In a South African context, this needs to take the form of a substantial financial injection into franchise and club cricket. There are urgent issues at these levels that need to be ­addressed.

The loss of talented schoolboy cricketers, disillusioned by club cricket in this country, is perhaps the most urgent of them. Our schools ­continue to produce talented cricketers, many of whom would like to pursue cricket as a career. After school, club cricket is the next step and it is currently in a shambles.

How will we keep talented players in the game when generally (with few exceptions) club cricket is falling apart in this country? Often there are no change rooms, pitches are poor, and there are no practice facilities or umpires. How many cricketers would choose to spend their weekends under these circumstances?

Looking around the country, it’s ­apparent that cricket clubs are in ­desperate need of assistance. Most of them resemble clubs from a bygone era and remind me of the days of club cricket in Zimbabwe in the seventies. An injection of cash into these clubs by Cricket South Africa would transform cricket in this country and get club cricket grounds looking first class again.

With improved practice and playing facilities, better coaches and ­revamped clubhouses, cricketers will want to turn up and play for their club team on the weekend. With club cricket strong, franchise cricket will benefit and so too South African cricket.

Running a club in the current ­economic climate is especially tough and most of them are under severe financial strain. To merely continue their existence, members and committees have had to pull out all the stops. This is where it is vital that the considerable resources generated from international cricket filter down to where they are most needed.

It’s great that world cricket and ­indeed cricket in South Africa are ­thriving right now but it’s important to focus on the future. If administrators, through complacency, continue to ignore the challenges that cricket at grass-roots level is facing, they will do so at their peril.

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