Home-grown talent lost as grassroots cricket costs soar
ENGLAND may have the most exciting Test cricketer in the world right now. While Cape Town was a batsman’s paradise, Ben Stokes scattered records and fielders with unnerving regularity.
Although the Ashes series underlined his importance, the winter series against South Africa and the T20 World Cup final against the West Indies were arguably defining moments for the 24-year-old all-rounder.
The highs and lows were momentous and extreme.
In Cape Town, he smashed the second-fastest double century in a career-best 258, which included 30 fours and 11 sixes, yet it will be interesting to see how he responds from the subsequent T20 World Cup final defeat to the West Indies, when hit for four consecutive sixes in the final over.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan says: “He will hurt for a long time and he has probably been turning it over in his mind ever since, wondering what he could have done differently.
“Yet it takes real guts to bowl the last over in a final. As a captain, you try to talk from the heart in similar situations and put an arm around the shoulder, but Stokes is not that sort of character. He doesn’t need someone telling him that he will be stronger for the experience.
“He is a professional and like many other elite athletes, he is driven on by the fear of failure. There is no doubt he will have been hurting. It will take time and it is a healing process. Likewise, there is no doubt he will learn from it.”
Despite that blow, England have been fortunate that left-handed batsman, right-arm quick Stokes is fulfilling his potential.
Stokes is a New Zealand import, arriving on these shores at the age of 12, having moved with his family when his rugby league coach father, Ged, came to work with nearby Workington.
His ascent may not have happened at all had it not been for private funding. Spotting his potential at the age of 13, a mystery benefactor agreed to fund Stokes’ coaching, at Cockermouth Cricket Club in Cumbria, to iron out flaws in his batting and bowling.
Vaughan feels that while England have the basis of a strong side, the spiralling cost of playing cricket at grassroots level – and in particular the lack of funding in schools – means that, in the future, talent like Stokes could easily slip through the net.
The former England captain said: “Ben Stokes has given England an added dimension. England’s spine is solid and he is developing into a gifted all-rounder.
“Virtually all the squad are under 30 and they will grow together.
“We are lucky that we have produced so many good young players over the years, and while you would like to think that the cream will invariably rise, you can’t help but wonder if players like Ben Stokes are slipping through the cracks.
“One of the biggest factors is that school sport, in particular, is not funded like it used to be. Cricket is played far less in schools – it is one of the first sports to be abandoned because of the costs involved in kit and pitch maintenance.
“It is also becoming increasingly expensive to fund local cricket and leagues are folding. It is not necessarily a lack of interest, but the costs of playing are greater than ever.
“We have to find more effective ways of funding sport and give grassroots cricket the opportunity to flourish. We can’t rely on mystery benefactors to fund the next Ben Stokes.”
The Yorkshireman is helping to highlight some initiatives that are already starting to reap dividends and redress the funding crisis.
One of them is ‘My Club Betting’, which is positioning itself to be one of the largest providers of grassroots funding in the UK, and Vaughan has endorsed the company’s initiatives by becoming their Cricket Brand Ambassador.
The company is committed to helping provide funding for grassroots sport with a varied suite of solutions, starting with its unique betting service, which gives a percentage of revenue and kit to each club that uses the service.
Every club has the opportunity to receive a free, tailor-made betting service. The members and supporters bet via the club’s own service and the club is rewarded with free sports equipment.
And unlike other bookmakers, the service gives money back – 20 per cent of net revenues return to the respective club for development every month.
Northumberland and Tyneside Senior League team Seaton Burn CC have recently taken advantage of the unique offer.
First XI captain, Andrew Jenninson, said: “We are a small club and we are delighted with the service.
“A few of the boys like to have a bet and we try to utilise any revenue stream at our disposal. So using My Club Betting seemed the obvious thing to do and over a period of time it should be very beneficial.”
Clubs like Seaton Burn CC who take up the MyClubBetting.com service are helping to ensure that the odds of missing the next Ben Stokes through a lack of funding are lengthening.