Bowled Over By Kent Cricket
The image of cricket as a sport is being challenged and – as the World Cup gets underway on 30th May – it’s reinventing itself very nicely at county level.
Against a backdrop of greater choice, a culture increasingly time poor, and sporting icons that still inspire (despite the downside of reality TV and social media), many sports have had to reinvent themselves. Cricket is no different and given the next generation – and diversity – are the lifeblood, it’s to young people and women that significant development work is being directed.
The ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) has spent three years engaging in extensive research looking at how to help boys and girls develop skills that will stay with them for life. In March, it announced changes to junior formats along with recommendations designed to improve the way the sport is delivered. The aim is to provide a great experience, enable the sport to thrive in clubs and schools and to give children (and parents) confidence they’re playing appropriate formats that will help them develop.
On a practical level this means fewer players per team, appropriate length pitches, smaller boundaries and shorter matches. It also includes introducing children and young people to the game, providing funds for clubs to invest in family-friendly facilities and offering volunteering opportunities to young people.
Talking about the formats, the ECB’s Nick Pryde says: “Last year, more than 59,000 children had a great first experience of the game through All Stars Cricket (an initiative aimed at five to eight-year-olds).
“It’s vital we follow this by continuing to make the game inclusive and action-packed. We want young people to continue to improve skills and just as importantly have fun. We know enjoyment is the main driver of participation and the new junior formats are based around that.”
In Kent, All Stars Cricket is in its third year. Offered at more than 50 locations across the county, 30% of participants are girls.
Clare Connor, managing director of women’s cricket at the ECB, says: “The changes to pitch lengths and formats are the product of research. Crucially, the most exciting feedback has come from players themselves who’ve reported the new formats increased enjoyment – they had more fun, felt more included and confident.”
Here in Kent…
At a county level, and ahead of two years of nationwide women’s softball festivals backed by the ECB, Kent has seen a flurry of development. This summer will see the launch of two new women’s leagues – the women’s club league using a softball and the women’s T20 development club league using a hardball.
Helen Fagg, community cricket officer at Kent Cricket, is positive about the sport’s future: “The women’s softball cricket campaign has ignited a real interest by providing a fun, quick and social format.
“In Kent, we’ve managed to galvanise support through various clubs to engage in a new countywide league structure, which allows women to play their preferred format. We’re lucky to have some amazing, pro-active volunteers who work tirelessly to sustain and develop their offering along with a commitment to developing the female game. It’s the passion of those people that is making cricket so vibrant at that all-important grass roots level.”
• The ICC Cricket World Cup (cricketworldcup.com) comes to England and Wales between 30th May-14th July.
Spotlight on…Tammy Beaumont
In April last year, Tammy Beaumont became the fourth Kent cricketer to play 50 one-day internationals for England. The Kent captain reached the landmark in the deciding game of a three-match series against India. The 28-year-old Dover-born cricketer follows former Kent skipper Charlotte Edwards and fellow Kent Cricket Academy graduates Lydia Greenway and Laura Marsh in playing 50 matches for the national team.
From tea-making to top coach
Recently awarded both National and Kent County Coach of the Year by the ECB, Anna Tunnicliff’s route into cricket was not a conventional one. Never someone constrained by convention, her determination has made a significant impact on the women’s game. In her own words, Anna started “being dragged to the cricket ground when my husband and I moved to West Malling 12 years ago” and, in those early days, her involvement consisted of sitting on the side lines and making tea.
“One day a male player asked me to make him a cup of tea and I thought: ‘I’ve had enough of this’, where are all the women and girls?” says Anna, who now coaches at Town Malling Cricket Club and works as a nurse in the emergency department at Maidstone Hospital. I started helping with the juniors three years ago and, although I’d never picked up a cricket bat, I went on to complete a Level One coaching course. My stepson and son got the bug but there was just one girl playing at the club and I wanted there to be better opportunities for girls and for my daughter, who kept saying cricket was only for boys.”
Anna got her Level Two coaching under her belt the following year and, with the launch of the ECB initiative to get more women playing, decided to start a ladies’ softball team to play in a local festival at Farningham Cricket Club. “Having initially got together just for the festival we wanted to play more and carried on with weekly coaching sessions. That summer I decided to go one further and play for the men’s team! The umpire said: ‘I assume you’ll bowl underarm?’ No, I replied, all my ladies bowl overarm. I bowled and took a wicket with my first ball!
“We host weekly softball during the season and hardball training on Wednesdays. Most people start with softball if they haven’t played before. Girls’ sessions are held on Friday nights and they have the opportunity to play in the Kent under-11 festivals and mini super-eight’s tournaments.”
What does Anna believe is so great about cricket as a sport generally but also as one with an increasingly higher profile among females? “I have a real passion to inspire a love of sport in women and girls. Cricket engages both your physical and mental skills and can be the most fantastic family game,” explains Anna.