Sporting Life: Why now is the time to get involved with your village cricket team – before it goes the way of the pub and the post office

Village cricket is going through something of a crisis – so now is the time to get out there and get stuck in. Annunciata Elwes reports.

The comforting spectacle of white-clad cricketers whiling away a sunny afternoon with a game on the village green is one of the irresistible sights of the British summer. Yet cricketers across the country are now deeply worried that, unless things change, this hopelessly bucolic pastime could soon become a memory.

Not all clubs are struggling. Some places such as Hartley Wintney Cricket Club in Hampshire – pictured above – have been thriving. Others, though, have been far less fortunate as the flow of new recruits has slowed to a trickle.

In 2008, there were 428,000 cricketers registered in England; eight years later, that number had dropped to 278,000.

Cricket in towns – with their greater reach and superior facilities – have been thriving, but villages have been suffering. It’d be a crying shame if the village clubs that are the lifeblood of the game followed the example of rural pubs and post offices by closing down in their thousands – yet with modern life making us more pushed for time than ever before, a real effort is needed to remind potential new players of the joys of joining in.

‘Young lads in villages are less and less interested and a lot of clubs have folded,’ says James Jaffrey, captain of the Audley End & Littlebury Cricket Club in Essex, founded in 1889.

‘Although the big clubs in towns are doing well, the grass roots are drying up. We’ve only got about a dozen members, so it can be hard to put a side together.’

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Village green cricket being played near Harpenden in Hertfordshire. Pic: Alamy.

Even the cricket team on The Archers recently struggled to field a full side, with the captain inviting female players to join, which elicited a patchy response from both players and audience.

The successful clubs have found ways to make it work though. Ian Kerr, chairman of Hartley Wintney Cricket Club, suggests that the key is to get players while they’re young. ‘We operate one of the largest junior sections in the county,’ he said in a recent letter to Country Life. ‘Our focus has been on making this great game part of the family DNA.’

Well said, Ian – and we’d exhort anyone toying with the idea of getting involved to dilly-dally no more, and get on with finding a club. Luckily, the England and Wales Cricket Board makes it easy: their website has a ‘club finder’ to help prospective players find somewhere to get involved. See www.ecb.co.uk/play/find-a-club for all the details.