“Catch them Young” has been an extremely popular slogan for many years in cricket as well as other sports disciplines. Its importance in the context of the non-Test playing countries of Asia cannot be over-emphasised.
Grassroots development has a number of dimensions. In simple terms, it would mean attracting more and more youngsters to the game and imparting that kind of cricket education to them so that they are able to knock at the doors of higher levels. The ultimate objective of grassroots development is therefore, to achieve higher standards of excellence through well planned, systematised and coordinated efforts.
The concept of grassroots development is however, not so simple when it comes to implementation. Youngsters may be attracted to the game of cricket and they may wish to play the game. But the most important questions that must be answered with respect to grassroots development are :
Do the children have cricket grounds ?
Do they have pitches as per their requirements ?
Are the equipment required to play the game (bat, ball, pads, gloves, helmet etc.) available to them ?
Do they have guidance as to how to play the game ? Are there Coaches to train these youngsters ?
Do they have proper physical training for the game ?
Are there any organized events to ignite the spirit of competition in the youngsters ?
Do the grounds have proper equipment for maintenance with regard to the requirements of the game ?
Are there proper Umpires to supervise the matches ?
These questions are simply indicative and not exhaustive. A number of factors and considerations can crop up from each of these questions that need to be answered before it is ensured that more and more youngsters take up the game. The slogan “Catch them Yong” can have no meaning in the context of the game of cricket if these basic factors are not taken care of.
Ways and Means
It is true that the grassroots development in the different countries would have to be need-based. For instance, the ACC Development Committee has identified “Fast Track Nations” and “Fledging Nations” in Asia. However, the present status of the growth of the game in these countries vary from “moderate” to “rapid”. Therefore, the development of grassroots in all countries cannot move at a uniform rate.
It is however, necessary to determine the uniform yardsticks of grassroots development in all the countries.
The broad yardsticks would be as follows :
Participation in Junior Events at the levels of Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 age groups.
Talent Search and Identification.
Development of Coaches ?Development of Physical Trainers
Development of Sports Medicine with relevance to cricket
Improvement of Umpiring Standards and encouraging more recruitment
Availability of proper infrastructure such as cricket ground, pitches etc.
Availability of cricket equipment such as bats, balls, pads, gloves, thigh pads, helmets, wicket keeping pads and gloves and so on.
Availability of equipment necessary for preparation and maintenance of cricket grounds and pitches.
Training of groundsmen and curators.
Broad ideas have been enumerated. However, each of these aspects require in-depth treatment in order to ensure proper grassroots development.
A timeline for each of these aspects should be determined in order that work could proceed simultaneously and in a well coordinated manner.
The Starting Point
The real work for the grassroots development should start at the level of cricket under 13 years of age.
Under-13 cricket should not feature full size cricket balls and full size grounds. Cricket balls of lesser weight and smaller size cricket grounds (50 to 60 yards) should be considered for Under-13 cricket.
The countries should be encouraged to have Under-13 competitions at their respective national levels.
In order to ignite the interest levels, Cricket Quiz and other promotional campaigns could be considered for Under-13 youngsters.