Cricket legends back changes to Australian cricket’s junior formats after the 2016-17 summer’s successful pilot program implemented across the nation.
Cricket legends Glenn McGrath, Alan Davidson, Greg Chappell and Mike Whitney have hailed the junior formats that are being rolled out across Australia as the desperately needed change their tradition-steeped sport needed to make.
Sixty five per cent of junior cricket associations across the nation have implemented Australian cricket’s junior formats after the 2016-17 summer’s successful pilot program.The changes mean boys and girls aged between 9-12 play on a pitch that’s been shortened; the number of fielders have been reduced and every child is guaranteed the opportunity to bat and bowl in matches that are completed in less time than the traditional 11-a-side format.
McGrath, who captured 563 Test wickets, described the decision to shorten the pitch to 16m for under 10/11 players and 18m for under 12/13s as one that would provide young players with the opportunity to learn to bowl properly.
“It’s a great change and it should probably have happened a long time ago because 22-yards is a long way for little tackers to bowl,” said McGrath.
“They need to lob the ball to get it down the other end.
“I think the changes are a matter of common sense, and they should also allow for some kids to develop their style from a young age.”
McGrath said the obvious benefit of shortening the pitch would be a reduction in the number of wides and sundries that plagued many of the early-aged matches his son played in.
“James was OK because he had control of the ball,” said McGrath.
“However, when the ball is rolling and hitting the side of the pitch you could see it would get frustrating (for the batter and bowler) and you just knew there’d be those kids who’d think ‘why bother’ because when wides and no balls are being constantly bowled it’s not inspiring.”
As a young cricketer who was made to field well away from the action because his captain thought a fishing rod had more talent than him, McGrath welcomed that the junior formats ensure every child gets the chance to bat, bowl and to get their hands on the ball in the field.
“That’s what it’s about, participation and getting a go,” said McGrath.
“If a kid is turning up to play cricket of a weekend and they’re not getting a bat or a bowl, they’re going to ask what’s the point in being there? I think the key is to give the kids at that age a go and to keep it enjoyable for them.”
Alan Davidson, who starred for Australia in the famous 1960 Tied Test against the West Indies, urged all junior officials to embrace the changes.
“The officials who are against it are the ones who want a badge on their blazer to say they coached a full-sized kid’s team,” said the 88-year-old, who was also a successful sports administrator.
“They don’t have any consideration for the development of the kids.
“Those officials need to realise two-year-old racehorses only race up to a mile, the trainers don’t expect them to run the Melbourne Cup distance of two miles because they’re not ready to. In cricket, we can’t expect children to play on an adult-sized pitch for the same reason.
“Officials also need to realise that once (the governing body) sets rules it’s their job to make sure it carries through. They have to make sure it works and if they don’t, they risk destroying the future of the young player.”
Davidson was pleased to think the changes would improve the standard of cricket played by 9-12-year-olds.
“If you bowl a ball that’s too big to grip properly you’ll release the ball from waist high,” he said. “But under the changes the [modified] ball will be delivered at the correct height of the arm.
“By using the smaller ball - and on a smaller pitch – they’ll be able to deliver it with the proper bowling action and they’ll be hitting the spot more regularly. You’ll also find the standard of batting will improve because batsmen will be exposed to the proper trajectory of the ball.”
Davidson added that the reduced number of players in junior formats teams allowed every player the chance to express themselves with the bat and ball.
“You want young kids to get a go, and playing a game that has less players in a team allows greater involvement for every player - and that will give them a greater opportunity to enjoy the game,” he said.
“At (9-12) that’s the most important thing. You don’t want to be over-coaching the players at that age, you want to ensure they’re enjoying every moment they’re out there and playing.”
Former Australian captain Greg Chappell said the new junior formats were designed to allow children to develop a passion for cricket through having fun.
“What the brain responds to at that age is having fun and learning from doing,” he said.
“We need to let them explore the game and that’s why we should all be excited by the new junior formats.
“When you see the junior formats done – and done well – you’ll see the kids let loose in an environment that encourages them to laugh and interact with each other. The great thing about that is that’s what kids do when they’re having fun.”
Former Australia fast bowler Mike Whitney, who is the president of Sydney’s Randwick-Petersham club, said he had good reason to support the junior formats.
“I’m all for any change in cricket that is going to improve the game and (a) allow for kids to play a little better and (b) encourage them to play,” he said.
Written by Daniel Lane for cricket.com.au.