Berkhamsted CC helps to spread the Ashes fever

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Berkhamsted Cricket Club was in the spotlight last week when the BBC Breakfast team paid a visit for a pre-Ashes showcase on grass roots cricket.

The club was selected after responding to an email from the Herts County Cricket Board, and head of junior cricket Mark Lewarne was the star of the show.

“They were trying to understand what the impact of the Ashes on local cricket would be,” said Mark.

“I told them that one strand is participation and the other is money.”

Clubs like Berkhamsted are almost entirely self-sufficient, with very little money trickling down from the top level of the game to the grass roots outfits.

These clubs rely heavily on raising cash through memberships and subscriptions – meaning attracting and retaining players is vital to their existence. And high-profile events such as the Ashes can have a big impact.

“There is no doubt in my mind that people are influenced by what they see on TV,” said Mark. “When England are doing well and when it is an exciting series, there is a big increase in junior participation.

“The 2005 series was very exciting and we had lots of kids signing up. It’s all about finding heroes.”

Despite still boasting a healthy junior section of around 300 youngsters, Mark says that Berkhamsted saw a worrying decline in numbers last summer.

And he puts this down to a number of factors, including the lack of an exciting England cricket series to get youngsters interested in the sport.

“Last year we had no Ashes series and the weather was appalling so we had a big drop-off in numbers,” said Mark.

“We are hoping for an exciting Ashes series this summer so that we can get some of these youngsters back. It has been excellent stuff so far, so hopefully that will continue.

“There are only about five weeks of the season left now so we will start to see the impact in terms of people signing up for winter training. And then hopefully there will be a big increase of numbers next April and May at the start of the new season.”

But while Mark suggests that the Ashes and the weather has a big effect on the popularity of cricket, he also believes that the scheduling of traditional winter sports is starting to have an impact on youngsters.

“We’ve noticed a big change in the last two or three years,” he said. “The junior football and rugby seasons used to finish at Easter but now they are starting to go on for longer and longer.

“When we have a bad winter like we did this year, the season seems to go on forever!”

“One of the hardest things at any club is to get the juniors carrying on playing cricket after 18. What the leagues have got to do is think about forms of the game that are more attractive to the 20-somethings.”

To find out about how to get involved with cricket at Berkhamsted, please visit the club website at www.berkhamstedcc.com