Anderson backs ECB plans to make cricket 'most inclusive team sport'

Government funding of £35m over five years can make "massive difference" to game's accessibility

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
James Anderson believes that the British government's £35 million investment in grassroots cricket will "make a massive difference" to the sport's profile and accessibility over the next five years.
Rishi Sunak, the UK's Prime Minister, announced a funding package at The Oval on Friday morning which Richard Thompson, ECB chair, described as a "seminal" step towards his ambition to make cricket "the most inclusive team sport in the country". The ECB plans to build 16 "all-weather cricket domes" in cities across England by 2030.
"Cricket [in England] has never had an investment of this size before from government," Thompson said. "A million children that would never have had the chance to play cricket will now get that chance… that is frankly outstanding. [We] hope that will really develop into something bigger and make schools even more committed to cricket because we're going to be providing the coaching, the facilities and the equipment."
The ECB has already funded a prototype dome in Bradford, which opened last year, and plans to launch two more in Walsall and Luton before the end of this summer. "When the government invests this amount of money, they need to invest in something they know works - and this works," Thompson said.
The funding package also includes investment into the ECB's partnerships with charities Chance to Shine, the Lord's Taverners and the ACE Programme, which have an emphasis on engaging children from lower socio-economic groups, those with special educational needs and disabilities, and the black community respectively.
"If we can get a bat and ball in people's hands early enough, and you've got the facilities there, then you hope they enter a pathway," Thompson said. "We'll work into a hub-spoke model so you've got a school, a dome, local clubs - everything will be linked back into local clubs as well - so it's a bit more joined-up, more coordination.
"Things aren't happening in isolation… my ambition for cricket is to become the most inclusive team sport in the country: you can't do that if you've not been playing at state schools. Take Jimmy, as the best example: if Jimmy's dad hadn't played cricket, he probably wouldn't have played. That shouldn't be the case."
Anderson, who is part of the ECB's state-school taskforce, said: "Being in a dressing room of very few state-school players, this could just make a huge difference. I would have loved the chance to play more at school. I know my mates who showed an interest in it would have liked access to the equipment and to have played more - but we just didn't."
Only around 6% of schoolchildren in the UK attend fee-paying schools, but more than half of the contracted England men's players for 2023-24 did so at some stage in their education - some after winning cricket scholarships. Anderson attended his local state school in Burnley, and started playing the sport thanks to his father Mick's passion for it.
"My experience of getting into cricket was basically through my dad," he said. "Getting into the county set-up was a bit of my mate's mum telling the coach to have a look at me, and stuff like that. So it was a lot of luck involved to get where I've got to. I think anything we can do to make those steps easier is important."
Anderson said that cricket facilities at his school were "non-existent" with "no access" to the sport. "I actually had to ask my dad to ask our cricket club to cut a pitch on the outfield to help us play one or two games a year, because we just didn't have the facilities at all. We had a shale-type athletics track, then a couple of grass football pitches - but that was literally it.
"There's always been a big number of privately-educated players in the [England] changing room. We talk a lot about trying to make the game inclusive and diverse and if you don't give kids a chance to play at school, then it's not making it inclusive or diverse. That is what this is going to help; it's going to make a massive difference.
"But also, I love playing the game - and this isn't all about getting the next generation of England cricketers. It's also just about getting people to experience this sport, which teaches you so much as a person: teamwork, communication, and so many other skills that will benefit you in life."
The funding is linked to England's hosting of the women's and men's T20 World Cups in 2026 and 2030 respectively, events which Thompson hopes can help cricket to further grow its profile. "Football suffocates everything," he said. "We have to double down on the fact that cricket is England's summer sport and do everything we can to enable that to be the case.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98