On the Front Foot: Cricket 'not as popular as archery' but ECB claim we miss the point

Either cricket is blooming with health or it is dead on its feet. Depends who you believe. The doom-mongers, who include the '2009 Wisden Almanack', have made much of a survey conducted in London schools last year by the Pro-Active South London group. To the killer question, which sport would you like to play more of, so few said it was cricket that it finished in 21st place, behind martial arts, archery and skiing (though Asian respondents, significantly, placed it well inside the top 10, and those of Pakistani origin put it top). Yet last week the England and Wales Cricket Board published another report showing that participation in the game last year increased by 24 per cent, 49 per cent in the case of women and girls. Impressive figures, in cricket terms almost Bradmanesque. These extremes cannot both be correct – unless other sports are simply increasing in popularity even more, south London is out of kilter with the rest of the nation or people do not want to play more cricket for the simple reason that they are already playing enough. Pete Ackerley, the ECB's head of development, was miffed about the schools survey, which he claimed was not truly representative. "More young people are playing cricket and more are being coached," he said. All this will re-open the debate on whether cricket needs a more prominent presence on free-to-air television, which seems to be a red herring considering archery does not appear to have a prime-time slot on BBC1 unless you count Robin Hood on Saturdays. The truth seems to be that cricket can hardly afford complacency, can never drop its guard, so to speak, against such interlopers as martial arts, but may actually be winning.

Sky can see for miles

What do Sourav Ganguly and this summer's television cricket coverage have in common? Ganguly has scored 11,363 one-day international runs, almost exactly the same number of miles that Sky expect their crew to cover on the 96 journeys they must make between matches – domestic and international – this summer, the length of some 920,000 cricket pitches. And who said that you can get too wrapped up in stats?

Taking the Mickey?

It depends, of course, what you like. Michael Vaughan's new project, called Artballing, might seem to some like somebody has simply whacked a cricket ball daubed in paint at a canvas a few yards away. For Vaughan, however, it is reminiscent of Picasso: "People say it's taken me two months to do these works but it's 20 years of playing that's allowed me to do that." The works, extremely effective, are going on sale for between £2,000 and £30,0000, with five per cent of the take going to Prostate Cancer and the PCA Benevolent Fund.

That's The Way It Is

The Cricket Society, in conjunction with MCC, will announce their cricket book of the year tomorrow. Pity it could find no space on the shortlist for the Cricket Writers' Club book of the year, the magnificent 'The Way It Was' by Stephen Chalke.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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