Australian cricket's custodians are expectant that a fresh commitment to major strategic funding for the game's lower levels will be matched - if not bettered - by local, state and federal governments to address a host of infrastructure problems unearthed by a Cricket Australia audit of facilities last year.
Broadcast rights revenue and a tightening of the belt at the CA headquarters have reaped an A$35 million windfall for community cricket levels. The seemingly princely sum, however, is a mere fraction of what the governing body's development chief Belinda Clark believes will be needed over the next decade.
Population growth areas in New South Wales/ACT, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia will be served by no fewer than 58 new community cricket staffers employed by state and territory associations. Besides, nearly A$13 million will be pushed directly towards infrastructure projects, registration fees for junior programs will be redirected towards funding clubs, further funding will be pushed towards growing competitions for women and girls, and free level one coaching courses will also be made available to help volunteers.
Even with an additional chunk of funding set to be tipped into the grassroots by the Australian Cricketers Association - an offshoot of last year's fractious pay dispute with CA - the gap between identified needs and the ability to fund them remains substantial. In that sense, it mirrors the shortfall between CA's burgeoning junior participation numbers and actual paid-up club cricketers, a disparity shown up annually by CA's own "census" and Sport Australia's annual survey, which places cricket some way down the list of participation sports. To that end, Clark is hopeful for governments at all levels to match what CA has announced - at least.
"That's been our experience in the past, so there's been a lot of partnerships formed over the last few years with local councils, state and national governments to make sure that those funds are being put in the right areas and that they serve the local communities that those governments are looking after," Clark told ESPNcricinfo. "That's the methodology that's been used in the past and worked really well, so what we're doing is using the same structure and framework, but pumping a lot more money in, which means that we're going to be able to partner with a lot more people to make sure the community has got what it needs.
"I think the key thing is that this is money that's available from cricket to invest in facilities, but facilities are also the domain of local, state and national governments, and that's the area where you start to partner with people and with other sports to make sure that you can maximise the dollars and make sure they go as far and as wide as possible. It's a significant increase in the amount of money that cricket itself is contributing to make sure those facilities are ready for kids and adults to play the sport.
"It comes from essentially the decisions to spend the money that the organisation has, partly its broadcast deal and partly its savings that have been found within the business in order to redirect our funds into the community, which is what the strategic plan is all about. So it's a proactive move by the sport to support the community and the funds that are within the organisation's control, it's been decided, this is an important thing to spend on."
Efforts to ensure that junior participants graduate to clubs are another central part of Clark's portfolio, reflected in how CA is expecting up to 90% of local competitions to adopt modified junior formats by the end of the summer. "The rollout of new junior formats has been taken up really well in the community," she said. "So last year there were 65% of associations that had started to implement those formats, and this year we anticipate getting as high as 90% of associations. So step one is to make sure that the game is fun and fast and attractive to kids, so that's that.
"But in terms of making sure the environment's great, that's where the free level one community coaching courses come into play, making sure the kids - once they arrive at the club have got good coaches and great experiences. The third bit is providing additional resources - by sharing the revenue from Cricket Blast registration it provides clubs with a revenue stream that previously wasn't there in order to make sure there's opportunities to continue to play."
The funding rollout is intriguingly timed for the game, given the fallout from the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal but also the signing up of News Corporation and Seven as new broadcast partners, the two companies contributing to a broadcast deal worth A$1.18 billion over the next six years. Both networks are gambling significant sums of money on cricket's appeal continuing to grow, rather than being stymied by public ill will towards the national team in particular and the governing body in general.
"I think fundamental to the sport has been providing people with opportunities to play and contribute as a volunteer at club or association level," Clark said. "That hasn't changed, but I think what we're in the midst of is being in a position where we've been able to invest more heavily into that. So there's always been an investment into the community but this is a significant increase at a moment in time that allows us to better support people who run the game, week in and week out."
The "war for talent" has been an oft-used catchphrase at CA in recent years, but Clark did not want to get into a field army comparison with other sports in terms of community and junior development positions. However, she forecast better days ahead for clubs and local associations who have often felt left out of the rivers of gold flowing from successive increases in CA's broadcast rights deals.
"We're looking at this through a lens of supporting the cricket community - that's our endeavour, whether we've got the same number of staff or less than other sports is irrelevant to us," Clark said. "What we need to do is make sure the support we provide is appropriate and what is being asked by our volunteers. So we'll be under what those sports possibly are providing, but I'm also really clear on the fact we've got a great volunteer network and we'll extract some great benefits for them and for the sport.
"States and territories will be communicating directly with clubs and associations around what the next steps are for them to be accessing the funding. This absolutely is a joint effort across Australian cricket and we're working very closely with those states and territories to make that happen. From a facilities perspective, there's a grant application that will be open to everyone.
"The people working in the field have been out talking to clubs about the Cricket Blast and the opportunities that provides for them sharing information around level one coaching courses and support for girls' competitions. So this really is a point in time where, if people have interest, they'll have a local cricket manager to make contact with and they'll have all the information to make sure they're fully briefed on what's available."