Plotting a route over and around the many obstacles standing in the way of recreational cricket can be a complicated business – and 2021 held the prospect of being unusually hazardous, coming while the worldwide pandemic raged on.
The Surrey Cricket Foundation is responsible for leading the recreational game in the county and its work has never been more valuable. Its task is to oversee all that happens among clubs, leagues, facilities, women and girls, schools and disabilities, while taking responsibility for fundraising, safeguarding, education for coaches, officials and groundstaff. It also looks after all cricket for good work in the Surrey and south London community.
So it’s no surprise that Chris Coleman, the Foundation’s director of cricket participation, is looking back on a year of challenges and forward to another which will doubtless throw up even more.
“It was a bounceback year for everyone involved in cricket after all that 2020 threw at us,” he says. “Cricket was the first team sport back after the first lockdown and maybe because people were unable to play football and rugby and hockey, or get tee-off times, we have benefited.
“The game has seen incredible growth this year, with the ECB showing participation has grown 20% on the level of 2019, the summer of the World Cup and the Ashes.
“In Surrey we’ve done even better with a third more games this year and that’s one of the biggest increases in the country. That’s 15,000 games of recreational cricket in the county, which is the highest level ever recorded.”
Coleman believes that changes in lifestyle – more people working from home – has contributed, explaining: “Some casual cricketers have become less casual because they have more time.
“If you live around Guildford, for instance, and you’re playing in an evening match starting at 6pm, it’s a lot easier to travel from home than if you work in London.”
The benefits have come in all areas. The launch of the Surrey Junior Cricket Championship, delayed by 12 months, saw almost 6,000 youth games being staged while 30 new adult teams were formed, bucking the nationwide decline in team sports.
The ECB’s Dynamos programme – which is aimed at eight to 11-year-olds – was introduced this year involving 52 clubs and 1,000 kids. It is building on the highly successful ECB All Stars scheme, which introduces youngsters between five and eight to the game.
Working within the community has been significantly stepped up by the Foundation, using cricket as a tool to drive social change. It included the inaugural Vauxhall Loop, a free holiday camp for 100 locally-based youngsters. And a group of kids from Croydon Street Cricket Programme were taken on a residential trip to Arundel in Sussex, offering many of them a first trip away from home.
It all takes time and resources and since Coleman arrived almost 18 months ago there have been 14 new staff appointments, which means a team of 24 will head into 2022 aiming to build on their work, which can only be done with the assistance of commercial partners and members of the club – so all support is welcomed and valuable.
Over the coming months we will be focusing in more detail on how the Foundation operates across the county, much of it away from The Oval, and to keep up with the work of the Foundation please sign up for the monthly Cricket in Surrey Update here.