County Cricketers in 2018

The performance of the England team this winter has again led some to suggest that the talent pool for the professional game is in general too reliant on players from overseas and on those who were educated at fee-paying schools. It is not too difficult to point to particular occasions when this might be thought so, the Hampshire team below at the Oval last summer, for example, according to the details on Cricket Archive consisted entirely of players who were one or the other.

Yet the home team in that match, with its base in the global city, put out a side with 10 England qualified players, from a mix of state and independent schools, together with the South African, Conor Mckerr.  As might be expected the backgrounds of the playing squads do vary a fair bit from  county to county and numbers on all the counties are in a file on the stats page above.

What the totals show is that in 2018 76% of the more than 440 players are England-qualified, of whom in turn some 37% were privately educated in this country. There is therefore still a sizeable number who were at a  state school, although many who were have also come from a family of cricket players.

The educational backgrounds of the players now do of course reflect the state of the game in schools a decade and more ago. When Chance to Shine was established in 2005 a commonly quoted stat was that the game had declined over the decades to the point where it was played in perhaps 10% of state schools; to which could be added the simple observation that participation had also declined, but less quickly maybe, in independent schools as well. Whether this decline was bottoming out then or still had, or still has, further to go is central to the likely future direction of the numbers here, but getting anything like a clear picture on this really requires figures over several years.

For what it is worth the % numbers of England qualified players is slightly up this year on last. There are however the not especially comforting stats that 20% of the game’s English players now were educated in just 1% of the schools in the independent sector, and that while the ECB has operated a policy of financially rewarding the counties with age-related payments for those who are England- qualified, in 2018 proportionately greater numbers of those under the age of 26 are the products of  independent schools.

To this there is a something like common sense observation that the relative numbers playing the game in state and fee-paying schools, while important, are secondary to the total numbers playing. The ECB’s efforts to promote the game in schools and at the grassroots certainly deserve to be a high priority, although whether the same can be said for a city-based t20 league as the way to produce a generational shift in interest is another question again.

In the game’s past, before the county structure became established,   W.G. Grace played for a United South of England Eleven, in effect a team of travelling salesmen for the game that took it to many places around the country and across the Irish Sea, showing the best of it to people who had not seen it before.  A United North of England and All-England teams led by others did something similar for varying periods at much the same time historically. A hundred years later, when interest in the long form of the game was dwindling in the decades after WWII, the counties took a shortened (t40) version, played by teams that included the world’s best players, to the round number of 100 cricket grounds on Sunday afternoons.

In 2020, the ECB seemingly expect a new audience to do the travelling to a competition to be played at just 8 grounds. What the 2018 stats on the backgrounds of professional players show is the small numbers who have been educated in Cardiff, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton;  one indicator of the interest levels in the game in those cities in the relatively recent past. If, as must be  quite likely, it is correlated with the potential number of new spectators coming along after them, then a message for the prospects for 2020 t20 getting much traction and being a success.