The age old noble game of cricket is to be dusted off and revamped at grassroots level to suit today's busy lifestyle environment.
Cricket New Zealand has rolled out a new initiative labelled Age and Stage that changes the framework of the game and make it more attractive at mainly primary and intermediate level.
Dilan Raj of Cricket Wanganui said while the initiative will be rolled out in unison nationwide, Whanganui was at the forefront of many of the changes detailed within the Age and Stage framework.
The new format will include reduced player numbers in a team, shortened pitches to help improve accuracy and shortened boundaries so young players can hit the fours and sixes they need to emulate their older heroes of the game.
The new format is aimed at producing a fast-paced, action-packed game to attract more numbers, accelerate skill development and maximise involvement in a game played over a shorter period.
At primary level batters will bat for a number of overs, not just until they are out to keep the game flowing and players engaged. At Intermediate level batters can bat a minimum of six balls before they can be dismissed.
"The traditionalists might say 'that's simply not cricket'. But what it does do is make the bowlers think about how to restrict runs during those six balls and allows the batter to get his eye in. Remember this is aimed at the younger cricketers and helps accelerate skill development," Raj said.
He said Whanganui had been trialling 8-aside games at primary and intermediate levels for the past three years and had advocated shorter pitches for the last 10 years, so had a jump on other centres only beginning to roll out the new format.
"This new format may shock some of the traditionalists, but cricket has struggled with time issues for years," Raj said.
"Back in the day time was not an issue. A team could jump on a boat and take six weeks to get across the world to play a game that may have lasted 10 days. Then the five-day game was introduced, then the one day game and T20. Now the English county clubs are trialling the 100 ball game.
"The game was beginning to lose traction and numbers playing at grassroots level. Something had to be done to make the game more attractive.
"We are very fortunate in New Zealand that volunteers pretty much drive sport. With today's busy lifestyle environment time issues needed to be addressed and the game needed to be far more attractive not only for players, but volunteers and even administrators.
"Today even most 15-year-olds have jobs after school and at weekends making practice and a 7-hour weekend game time difficult to squeeze in. Add to that a player may have prepared for a particular match over two weeks only to take the field and be out first ball. That's not very attractive for younger players especially."
Raj said sport played a major role in personal development and taught respect, integrity, honesty and fostered a sense of fair play, so needed to be made attractive at all levels.
"Teachers already have a heavy workload, so it comes down to creating an environment that helped retain parent and volunteer involvement.
"In the past Cricket Wanganui has held coaching courses and we will continue these, but will provide far more follow-up post course. We are also hosting a new-to-coaching foundation course at 5.30pm on October 1 at Wanganui Collegiate School."
And for youngsters not playing in school teams for whatever reason, The Watsons Tech Cricket Club has come to the party.
"Their focus will be on junior cricket and will cater for those kids not playing a school team. If they want to play they can come to a registration afternoon at 4pm in Friday,
September 28 at Victoria Park to put their names down. We are also very fortunate to have Jess Watkin stay in Whanganui and finally make the White Ferns.
"It shows players can reach top level while still playing at home. Jess is putting back into the game and has co-opted fellow White Fern Hannah Rowe to help promote and grow the girls game here.
"They will host a two-day girls only skills workshop with primary school girls catered for on October 9 and secondary girls on October 10. Anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and an application form," Raj said.