It's never been better. The internet is swarming with cricket sites and access to the sport has never been easier. Up-to-the-minute news and scores, comment pieces, games, and stats are omnipresent. So why have the national boards failed to catch up, and why can't most work out exactly what service they are providing?
With national sporting bodies desperate to eke out as much publicity as possible to compete in an overcrowded market, their websites should play a crucial role. It allows them to sell themselves and their sport to the public; seduce newcomers and get them playing; be up-to-date with the latest news; provide a forum for debate; be easy to access and look good.
Because the sites are so accessible, the opportunity is an open goal. But cricket boards appear to be suffering from the same problem that afflicted Diana Ross at the opening ceremony of the 1994 football World Cup - they keep scuffing the ball wide. In the case of the Indian board (BCCI), it even fails to make contact with the ball, loses its balance and ends up on its backside: there is no BCCI website. Perhaps they're too busy arguing among themselves, but the situation smacks of arrogance and complacency. Cricket may be a religion in India, but carry on behaving like they are now and it could all change. And where will children find out the best way to get into the sport? Not on the BCCI website; maybe they'll take up soccer or hockey instead.
Letting people know where to go to get involved should be the primary concern for the boards - it's the best way to promote themselves. The success rate differs wildly. Two boards that should be trying harder than all of the others to introduce kids to the sport fail miserably: the recently revamped Zimbabwe and Bangladesh sites fail to offer any numbers or contact details for youth programmes. It is, however, easy to find job opportunities at the BCB; anyone with website administration experience should probably apply. Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka (the latter run by Cricinfo) also do keen children a disservice. Best are the New Zealand and England websites, plenty of information, easy to find. Sounds simple, and it is. A special mention for the Australian site - its indigenous cricket section is excellent and very worthy, but there don't appear to be any contact details.
Online cricket news is generally first-class: regularly updated, well-written and smattered with personality and comment. Boards are at a disadvantage here. Although their status allows them to not only create news but to be the first to hear of latest developments, it also prevents them from reporting anything other than the dry bones of a story. All facts, all figures, no speculation, no opinion, no readers. It's just too easy to find decent news elsewhere these days.
The boards need to make a decision on what service they're providing. If they can't report the news to any real degree of independence, then perhaps their main focus should be on the corporate side - getting people interested in the game and building its popularity. The ECB site gets it pretty much right - there is a decent news section that doesn't pretend to be anything other than straight reporting, but it invests more time on the corporate and interactive parts of the site. Interaction and eye-catching design are great ways to seduce people.
Unfortunately, the design lets all of the sites down. Although some are quick and easy to navigate - New Zealand is the shining example - most are pretty turgid to look at. The ECB and West Indies sites are a lesson in why less is more, although the ECB's video and audio section makes up for their messy homepage. The Windies interactive area is less successful: the game involving West Indies kids mascot Clarence the Cricketing Crab, for example (he's not cute, he's not loveable, but he is great for pushing over, and kids love pushing things over). He might have been invented in the Walt Disney studios, but his interactive game is more Toy Horror Story than Toy Story. More worthy is the Clarence Goes to School Teachers' Manual - a guide for teachers using cricket as a learning tool. Unfortunately, the poor soul who gets to walk around inside Clarence probably drifted off during these lessons.
With a quick look at the English sites for the FA (football), RFU (rugby union) and LTA (Tennis), there is strong competition out there. Cricket boards have little excuse for failing to take advantage of such an easy way to sell your sport to the public - it's like missing a long hop from Clarence the Crab. Unfortunately, with the exception of New Zealand, England and Australia, most boards have been castled.
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Click on the country links to visit the board website
Daniel Brigham is a staff writer on The Wisden Cricketer magazine