Some Other Thoughts...

Far be it from me to decry Mr Shaw’s recent article ‘Any Thought’s’ as mere polemic, and although there is unquestionably a case for a re-evaluation of the prevailing methodology evinced within the superstructure, as well as for the operational format for the pursuit of cricket, the article left a slightly bitter aftertaste nonetheless. I am quite aware that, almost universally, what appears on the WBCC website should be received in good humour, but if I know Mr Shaw, there will be plenty of sincerity in the article also. I have always welcomed Mr Shaw’s particular brand of humour, both in conversation and in writing. If one recalls the Jester in Shakespeare’s King Lear, one will know that humour can illuminate even the most serious of issues. You will forgive me, though, if my humour is after a different fashion and rarely as sustained.


Obviously, with a burgeoning junior establishment, a multitude of junior cricketers clearly gifted with the prerequisite potential, and a significant element of the latter appearing on a regular basis for the two senior sides, the issues with which Mr Shaw’s article dealt have implications for the WBCC especially and for the foreseeable future also. It would be wholly inappropriate, therefore, for the establishment to play the ostrich, metaphorically speaking. Any engagement with these issues must be welcome. Conversely, it is imperative that there be no phantom-chasing, and where problems are found, that the solutions are well formulated and correct. Otherwise the consequences may be unwanted and severe.


Implicit in Mr Shaw’s article is the identification of a number of problems within the present system: Myopia, complacency, neglect, indifference, apathy… they are all there in Mr Shaw’s article in some form or other, these five Giant Evils. Surely it comes as no surprise to anyone that Mr Shaw should reinvent himself as the Sir William Beveridge of cricket.


What is of particular concern, however, is Mr Shaw’s selective interrogation of the evidence-base when he comes to the conclusion that young players disappear down the ‘black hole of cricketing apathy’. From our own club, Mr Shaw cited two individuals – and no doubt he is aware of more – who have traversed that most unfortunate of event horizons. From my own generation, my memory recalls at least four other players who have done the same. Prima facie, the argument that the powers-that-be are failing in their obligation to sustain interest in cricket amongst younger generations is seductive. Surely, the epidemiological investigators at the World Health Organisation can rest easy that we have been able to identify this sickness at the parochial level.


Forgive me, though, if I am not inclined to push the panic button just yet. Maths may not be my strong point – although I will shuffle off false modesty and say that I know when there are four men in the ring and when there are fewer – but I make that six cricketers to have received significant levels of investment at the junior level in the hope that they would be prepared as far as possible for a senior career, their potential having qualified them for such, who subsequently dropped out of cricket. As previously mentioned, there may be more.


Surely, though, the next question to be asked is how many did not drop out? How many have persevered with cricket at the senior level? In the interests of fairness, the same parameters apply, they being all those juniors to have left the ranks of the WBCC juniors since and including the generation of those individuals identified by Mr Shaw, all the way down to the most recent ‘graduates’. That, by my calculation, is seven seasons. How many of those now regularly appear in the senior sides? The answer, by my count, is seven. Supplemental to this number, there are at least two more to have progressed through the junior establishment at WBCC in that time who are now active members of other clubs. Net, that is +1 for the WBCC and +3 for cricket as a whole.


Moreover, if there is attrition amidst the junior end of the scale, has there not also been attrition amongst senior players? This is not to refer to the evolutionary termination of a career once a player has reached that natural point. Put differently, how many seniors, within the same period of time, can be said to have ‘retired’ prematurely? Furthermore, how many seniors fail to sustain their commitment to cricket on a regular season-by-season basis? Obviously, there may be some best-case-analysis involved in answering these questions. Some drop out because of injury, some because they move away, some because of family commitments, some for financial reasons – from here we are in danger of entering the realm of socio-economics which, thank goodness, is not in the remit currently. Others within the WBCC will be best placed to answer these questions, although I am certain the answer is of a quantity infinitely greater that nil. Whatever, this requires careful consideration if we are not to inadvertently push juniors, conceptually speaking, into the purview of a special case in any undue sense. 


Conversely, what is the attrition rate amongst junior members before they outgrow the junior framework? In the last seven seasons, seven or eight have given up cricket to my recollection. Again, others will be better placed to accurately report the figure. On top of those, there were a number to move to other clubs. That said, the WBCC has also gained significant numbers of juniors. The specific difficulty with this group, however, comes with qualifying potential and talent: to what extent is a person in this category likely to qualify for a career in senior cricket? The answer will help draw the line between inclusion and exclusion as applicable evidence.


The point I am trying to make here is that, for the WBCC at least, the early years of seniority are perhaps not as afflicted as they may first appear. Conversely, the implication is that the problem is actually endemic and indiscriminate of age. In which case, the problem may be more serious than is generally credited. Certainly, the problem of availabilities for Cup Games which Mr Shaw highlights is slightly different and broader than the issue of players in the age range 18-24. In fact, Mr Shaw asks three very interesting questions, but instead of considering possible answers, he takes us straight into ‘the solution’.


I don’t want to go on too much longer because I will end up raising too many questions while answering too few. What we cannot do, though, is simply assume that every cricketer who has dropped out of cricket has been failed by cricket. Nor can we assume the inverse, that every drop-out has failed cricket. The broad-brush-generalisations that such assumptions precipitate are rarely safe. Unsafe conclusions will not help us resolve real problems while they may actually obscure some other issues of significance. In acting from such an unsteady platform, would we not be as guilty of myopia as those whom Mr Shaw accuses. Reacting with a kneejerk, would we not actually be as blind as those who lead the bored? If the two individuals identified by Mr Shaw were still active in cricket, might he have written an article celebrating the good health of the system? Therefore, how is the health of cricket quantified? Surely the answer cannot involve anything as coarse as calculations of net attrition.


In order to avoid carelessness, it will be necessary to ensure that the ultimate decision-makers are properly equipped. Where possible, it may be necessary to appreciate attrition on a case-by-case basis in order to add definition to the sea of statistics and, more importantly, so that we may more readily understand why people leave cricket. It would then be necessary to consider what measures can be implemented by way of solution. Moreover, all possible implications would need to be gamed through, possible unintended consequences included. Finally, aims, objectives, and other criteria must be established by which any solution can be measured so that success or failure may be determined within a given timeframe.


It should also be borne in mind that the curves of cause and effect can be miscorrelated by a given period of time. Consequently, how can we be certain that the problem(s) which caused cricket’s current predicament are still active? A few seasons ago, there was a revision of the D&CCL junior establishment, apropos of which I heard more criticism than praise. How might we eliminate past failings from our considerations? Moreover, if it was not a prudent reorganisation – the status quo ante resumed after only a couple of seasons – how do we ensure that similar future reorganisations are constructive, not detrimental? Past decisions are too often the mill-stones of the present.           


I thank Mr Shaw for his input but if I may ask that he indulge me with a response, he would find me receptive. Specifically, the two individuals he highlighted, were they pushed by an intrinsic element of cricket or pulled by an extrinsic factor? How would the format he proposed fight the problems he identified? By what criteria would he gauge its success or failure, post festum? In other words, Mr Shaw, how can you be sure?