This year has been the hardest for me in terms of playing cricket, almost to the point where I’ve considered not playing.
It’s sad for me to say, but I don’t look forward to getting the whites on anymore. I don’t relish getting onto the field, because when push comes to shove – I’m just not that good, and I can admit it.
I’ve never been that good, but now it seems to matter, where previously it didn’t.
I work hard at improving, but really, I’m a bog-standard seam bowler with little consistency. I can’t catch, and I’ve never hit more than 20 with the bat.
Yet for so long, players like me played cricket in spite of a lack of ability.
We fielded poorly, getting a bit better each year, nipped in with the odd wicket, occasionally did something great, then turned up at winter nets to have a chat in February.
But there is an increasing pressure at this base level of club cricket, which has been eroding recreational players’ place in the game.
In the last decade, participation has gone down steadily due to a number of reasons.
No doubt cost is one, weather another, the fact that cricket is no longer on free-to-air TV is certainly up there, and probably, the prevalence of T20, offering fans regular high-octane action to feast on.
There were roughly 430,000 club cricketers in 2008, and in 2015-16, this had plummeted to below 280,000, according to http://www.statista.com, which is almost half of what it was 20 years ago. Admittedly, I saw other stats flying around, talking about recreational club cricketers being in the millions. I certainly haven’t found evidence so far.
As the numbers of players reduce, clubs are forced to downsize, and in turn opportunities dwindle for fringe players such as myself.
Instead of there being three elevens, like there was in my local side when I first started, there’s now only one eleven.
That one eleven plays only on Sunday in a league, which means if I play, I don’t bowl. I’m way down the pecking order. And more often than not, I don’t get to play, full stop.
This is a damaging chicken-and-egg situation.
The more recreational players that stop playing because they no longer get a proper game, the lower chance there is for fringe players like me, to get a game at all – as clubs have less players to chose from week-in-week-out – in the long term.
This vicious circle makes it increasingly harder to grow local clubs and attract players.
The options for a player like me, is to have uncertain playing time, if I commit to my regular club. Or to not play, and contribute to the decline of participation in club cricket, or I guess, to go elsewhere; severing ties to friends I’ve made over the last 10 years.
In reality, I am just a domino.
I’m one person, in a long line of recreational players, who have reached a point where they don’t feel it’s worth playing.
This isn’t meant to be a self-indulgent sob story, but unless something is done to incentivise clubs to keep fringe players like me, struggling clubs will only struggle more, as recreational cricketers drop off the radar.
For now, I am not going to give up. I love playing cricket, even if at times it’s the most frustrating thing in the world. But I know of so many people who have, and even more are considering it, and there is a certain sense of inevitability, that at some point, it may be me.