Illawarra cricket takes a hit as numbers fall

Cricket may be the national summer sport but officials, including those in this region are grappling with falling player numbers, with the future far from assured.

Once a summer superpower, cricket has taken a major hit with Cricket Illawarra not immune from making major changes to their competition structure this season.

A series of meetings with member clubs just prior to this season led to a major overhaul of the senior Illawarra competition.

Decades of two-day cricket - the traditional lifeblood of the sport - were replaced by 18 one-day games, plus five Twenty 20 rounds.

The 90-over game had been swept away not just in lower grades, but first grade too as officials looked to arrest the slide in player numbers and the overall  standard of the competition.

The move, passed by a vote of 8 to 2 among the Illawarra clubs came after Illawarra cricket had arguably its most successful season in years.

Illawarra had won their first NSW Country Championship since 1998 and was coming off a exciting domestic season in which Helensburgh won its first top grade trophy by taking out the one-day crown, while the two-day competition was the closest in years with six teams chasing a semi-final spot heading into the final round.

Having covered Illawarra cricket for 20 years, season 2011-2012 was one of the best on record.

But behind the scenes the competition was struggling.

Players numbers were down, particularly in the lower grades and officials were concerned with the overall standard.

Two-day cricket was on the nose.

 Players today are no longer satisfied fielding for a full day in the summer heat or waiting around for most of an afternoon to get a bat.

 And given the record washouts last season some players went weeks before getting a hit.

 So officials did a major overhaul, including a new points system - which still needs tinkering - and made one-day cricket the whole box and dice, with a few weeks of Twenty20s.

At a junior level where participation rates have fallen - the first introduction to junior cricket after Milo in2Cricket (under 8s) can now be Twenty20 with a Friday afternoon T20 comp for under 9s launched this season.

   South Coast cricket also facing challenges. This season Gerringong merged with Jamberoo after Jamberoo struggled in recent seasons.

Senior South Coast players say the standard is in decline and has been for many seasons.

 On the representative front South Coast is the mainstay of  Southern Zone which lost all three games at the country championships  this season.

 The South Coast comp has retained its two-day format, but this season despite the emergence of Albion Park and Shellharbour there is a strong feeling that the top two clubs Lake Illawarra and Oak Flats are clearly superior to the rest.

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