One of the challenges for ECB Coaches working in the Club sector is the constant turn-over of players, especially after they leave the established Colts’ set-up, generally after U16.
At my own Club, we have more than 70 players in the junior section, from 8-years old upwards. If we are lucky, we might see four or five join the senior Club (and probably fewer than that stay with the Club into their twenties).
I am sure that there are complex social reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest challenge for Clubs, County Associations, and coaches is to provide a form of the game that is accessible and enjoyable for the younger players before they are lost to adulthood.
With support from County Boards and local councils, Last Man Stands might just be that format. Offering competitive cricket, played at local venues, for players not able (or willing) to commit to a full day of competitive league cricket on a Saturday or Sunday, LastManStands could be a bridge between Colts cricket and the senior Club game.
Once a young player leaves the well-established Colts’ sections, they are expected to move up from (mostly) evening and Sunday morning Colts cricket to (mostly) competitive, afternoon or all-day games in the senior sections.
This can be a big jump – from short (20 over) games, played in the evening or on Sunday morning, with friends they have possibly known since under 9s, to playing with grizzled old Club men (in their 20s and 30s…), in games that can last six hours or more, often an hour or more from home.
And still the dread “picked for his fielding” tag.
The Essex League seek to address the transition with their “Jeff Rodriques Memorial Trophy”, pitting combined teams of under 16s and over 40s (minimum of 5 of each age group) against one another. Great experience for those lucky enough to find a team (only 10 Clubs in Essex have entered teams for the 2012 season).
But once the young players pass 16, they are mostly left to the mercies of selection in the senior Clubs.
Local midweek twenty20 competitions used to be very popular, but (at least in metropolitan Essex) appear largely to have fallen foul of longer working hours. And in any case, the County, League and local twenty20 competitions are largely dominated by established senior players, leaving little scope to introduce younger players (unless they can field like demons…).
There is a real need for a social (but still competitive) form of the game. And initiatives like LastManStands might just provide the answer, with local matches, played on mid-week evenings normally at a neutral venue.