It could be a long time before we see a summer of cricket in this country quite as dramatic as 2019. England’s scarcely believable World Cup victory – secured by virtue of a superior boundary count after an epic final with New Zealand ended in a tie – was followed by a similarly spectacular Ashes series, which saw Australia retain the little urn with a 2-2 draw.
There’s no doubt that such excitement will be hard to match in the years to come, but will we see the sport’s popularity grow as we enter a new decade? Will the heroics of Ben Stokes and his team-mates inspire the future generation to pick up a cricket bat and try to emulate the modern-day superstars?
The early figures suggest an upward trend, which the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) hopes will continue. Between 2016 and 2019, statistics from Sport England showed that adult participation in cricket was on the decline, with the number of people playing the sport at least twice a month in any capacity dropping from 364,600 to 292,200 three years later.
Those numbers covered the period up to May 2019, just before the World Cup got underway and, in the wake of Stokes’ remarkable Test-winning innings at Headingley in August, Sports Minister Nigel Adams declared: “I know the ECB, who I’ve spoken to in recent weeks, are determined to see an uptake in the number of youngsters playing. There’s no better time to seize the opportunity after an incredible summer of cricket.”
Much has been said about the accessibility of cricket for supporters, with both the World Cup and Ashes broadcast on Sky Sports rather than free-to-air television, but the money generated by such deals means the ECB has a much larger pot to dip into when it comes to filtering funds through the game right down to grassroots level.
And the early signs are that England’s triumphant World Cup has had a positive impact. According to the ECB, 62% of clubs reported an increase in the number of junior players, while 40% of fans intend to follow the sport more closely and over 800,000 primary school children were reached by the Cricket World Cup Schools Programme, in partnership with Chance to Shine.
And the work continues for the ECB, who in 2020 are introducing a fresh format of the game, The Hundred, which will be held during the school summer holidays and has been designed with the aim of encouraging more children to watch and get involved in cricket.
The start of a new decade will also see the ECB launch its Inspiring Generations scheme, a five-year plan to “connect communities and to inspire current and future generations through cricket”. So, while the early signs of participation in this country are encouraging on the back of England’s scintillating summer, the ECB is working hard to maintain that momentum.