Dare sport retailers start hoping that cricket sales could be picking up again? Cricket equipment sales have been a bit in the doldrums for a few years, but there are some signs that there is renewed interest in playing the game at school level.

Sports Trader asked schools to let us know whether the interest in cricket among their learners are going up or down by completing a short survey. They could remain anonymous if they wished to.

The majority of the respondents (72%) are from high schools — several of them from some of the top sport schools. About three-quarters of the schools (77%) have multiple teams for every age group.

The good news is that 44% reported that there is now more interest in cricket participation in their school than five years ago. What’s more, 12% said that this year started with much more interest from learners wanting to play cricket than last year.

Whether it is interest generated by the winning performances of the Proteas against Pakistan (at the time of going to press the verdict was still out on the tests against Sri Lanka) or the looming excitement of another World Cup … who cares?

What matters is that the new participants have to buy equipment, which is good for retailers.

Nearly a quarter of the respondents said that the interest in cricket remained about the same over the past five years … but 32% said there has been quite a big drop in participation.

For many of the respondents (44%) the greater interest in the sport did not increase the number of the teams at the school, as they still have about the same number of teams as five years ago.

“Our cricket team numbers stay more or less the same every year, but it depends on the league and what teams other schools have,” comments PT Vermaak of Northridge Primary School.

Nearly a quarter (24%) say they have slightly fewer teams than five years ago, but a fifth say they have slightly more teams.

The 5-7 teams cricket teams at Hoërskool Randburg are slightly less than the number they had a few years ago, but this is due to fewer learners wanting to participate in sport overall, reports Armand Erasmus.

Only two schools reported that they now have significantly more teams than a few years ago. Both of them are primary schools in smaller towns.

And as a sign of the times, more than a third say girls are also playing cricket at their schools, although all have more boys’ teams than girls.

One school only enters teams in the boys’ league … but girls also play in these teams.

Most (84%) of the schools say that all their teams play in school’s leagues, with only a handful reporting that only their top teams play in leagues.

As so many other things, an inspiring and enthusiastic coach and/or teacher promoting cricket is the biggest contributor to the growth in cricket participation, say 43% of the respondents. Another factor in renewed cricket interest is how well the school performed in cricket the previous year, say a third of the respondents.

SACS, the alma mater of a cricket great like Peter Kirsten, is more used to winning than losing cricket matches, and the fact that the school performed well in cricket last year, coupled with enthusiastic teachers and new coaches driving participation this year, are reasons for the growth of cricket participation at the school, says Graeme Wepener.

These sentiments are echoed by Grant Young (MIC) and Jean van Zyl (Head of Sports) of Trinityhouse Randpark Ridge.

This also confirms what many retailers have observed: all sports fans are keen to support winners, but sadly turn their backs on losers.

It is interesting that only 14% believe that the fact that it is compulsory to participate in a summer sport at the school contributes to cricket growth.

And less than 10% believe that the Proteas’ good performance at the start of the year contributed to more learners wanting to emulate their cricket heroes.

The schools that reported declining cricket participation (67%), attributed this mainly to a drop in overall sport participation amongst learners.

There are many reasons why cricket participation has dropped significantly at Port Rex Technical School, says Director of Sport Timothy Kirby: “cricket is expensive and the school cannot afford more facilities as there is too much competition from other sports that are less time-consuming. Besides, fewer learners are nowadays interested in participating in any form of sport.

More than half of the respondents (57%) agree with him that cricket participation suffers from too much competition from other sports because it is a game that is too time-consuming.

There is much less interest in cricket at Hoërskool Brandwag in Benoni, despite the fact that boys and girls are encouraged to play the sport, says Henlo Blignault, because there are just too many other sports and activities competing for the learners’ limited time. The school offers eight other summer sports in addition to cricket.

Despite the tough economy, only a third of the respondents from schools where participation declined believe this is due to the expense of equipment, or because the school cannot afford facilities (22%).

Schools buy gear for players

Schools do, however, attempt to supply what they can afford. “We supply what the coaches would need, but the budget is tight, which makes it difficult to maintain this throughout the cricket season,” says an anonymous respondent. “The rest of the equipment players need to buy themselves.”

Just about all the schools that responded buy basic cricket equipment in bulk to supply to their teams like balls and stumps (96%). Many of them also provide bowling machines (84%) and scoreboards (72%).

Interestingly, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the respondents’ schools supply equipment that are often usually for individual, rather than team, use, like pads and helmets. More than half of the schools (56%) also supply even more individual personal gear like bats and protective.

The fact that a school would buy bats and pads in bulk for use by a team, instead of every player buying his or her own, is not such good news for retailers.

But, on the other hand, if this is a way to encourage the participation of learners who would otherwise not play cricket because of the cost involved, there is always the hope that the learner will make such good progress that his parents will one day buy him that coveted top end bat.

About a third of the respondents’ schools supply clothing for their teams. Retailers should benefit from this as the clothing would (hopefully!) not be shared amongst team members and each member would receive/buy an individual set.