If you have a deep affection for the sport of cricket but abhor the concept of winter nets due to the cold, long lines, and squeaky-trainer silence, then an exhilarating session of indoor cricket might entice you. However, comprehending the various formats of the game and its existence in the United Kingdom is akin to navigating a sack of wet knitting that is particularly entangled.
Two Historical Variations
There have historically been two variations of indoor cricket. The initial activity takes place within a general sports facility, aiming to simulate the experience of outdoor cricket to some degree. On occasion, regulations govern matting; however, the game frequently emerges spontaneously, devoid of rigid rules and prescribed formats. The second one is “official” indoor cricket, which Action Indoor Cricket England conducts on a tension-netted court with a 30-meter-long, 10- to 12-meter-wide, and 4- to 5-meter-tall pitch. This format is particularly popular in Australia but is also significant in New Zealand and South Africa, where it is utilised for international competitions and the World Cup.
Two competitions are organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board: an Indoor National Club Championship and a girls’ indoor competition for under-13s and under-15s. Both are classified as general sporting halls.
The ECB assumed responsibility for coordinating the girls’ competition following the Lady Taverners. The competition is open to all institutions and takes place between January and Easter. The county champions compete in five regional venues throughout the nation, and the week preceding May half-term, the national finals are held at Lord’s for the five regional victors.
Increasing School Participation
Sue Laister, the ECB’s competitions manager for the women and girls’ game, exclaims, “It is extremely encouraging.” “In addition to being a simple game to learn, the eight overs per side allow for a completion time of between half an hour and an hour, which aligns with the typical duration of a school lesson or lunch break.
“Organising indoor cricket is simpler for schools than outdoor cricket because they typically have access to a sports hall or gym and require less specialised equipment.” The teams utilise plastic bats, play for one inning with no leg byes, bowlers may bowl a maximum of two overs, and players are required to retire at the age of 15; however, they may bat again if the remainder of the team is dismissed.
Laister believes that the introduction to the game is outstanding. “Everyone participates; it’s a brief, entertaining, and engaging format.”
Indoor National Club Championship
Then, the ECB administers the Indoor National Club Championship, where around 500 clubs from across the nation compete. Each county competition’s victor advances to a regional final, which culminates in a national match played once more at Lord’s in March. The competition is six-a-side, with each team batting for twelve overs (three overs per bowler at most), and matches last approximately an hour.
BUCS Indoor Cricket Competitions
In contrast, the Bucs (British Universities and Colleges Sport) indoor cricket competitions are immensely popular, in part because the academic year schedules for universities restrict the availability of outdoor cricket during the summer. In fact, the University of Kent defeated the University of Sheffield in the final to win the ECB Indoor National Club Championship in 2023.
Challenges and Transformations
Jen Barden is the Lancashire Foundation’s manager of cricket development. Twenty years ago, indoor cricket persisted throughout the winter. While acknowledging the current deficiency in facilities, she explains the situation as follows: “Indoor cricket is an expensive activity.” Only sixteen children will have participated in an hour; therefore, you will need to reserve a venue and an umpire. Although Lancashire does not typically organise competitions, anyone interested is welcome to borrow their expertise and equipment. “Somewhat depends on who is inflicting the insect in that area.” Barden recalls a tension net indoor cricket facility that was purpose-built in Rochdale; however, the most recent location is in Birmingham.
Tension Net Indoor Cricket
This brings us to Duncan Norris, the chairperson of Action Indoor Cricket England. Norris serves as the England representative to the World Indoor Cricket Federation, while the Birmingham-based Action Indoor Cricket oversees tournaments and teams at the domestic, national, and international levels.
“During the 1980s and 1990s, there were more than sixty cricket centres equipped with tension nets, and attendance was enormous,” he explains. “In the beginning, individuals such as Mike Gatting and Asif Din utilised the format merely as an extra form.” Regrettably, the commercial model is exceedingly challenging to implement in this nation due to the extremely seasonal nature of the activity and the high rates. As a result, the majority of those institutions progressively ceased operations. At present, the Midlands are home to the four remaining tension net centres in the country, which are located in Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby and Nottingham.
Norris became involved when, in 2009, he acquired from administrators the Bristol indoor cricket centre (which subsequently closed due to the financial strains of Covid) and re-invested in it. The ECB subsequently hired him as a consultant, and “in 2014, the ECB requested that my firm oversee, develop, and manage the game; we signed a memorandum of understanding to that effect.”
He holds the tension net variant of indoor cricket in the highest regard, both as a participation sport and as a method of developing cricketers.
“Everyone is required to bat, bowl and field in this extremely fast-paced competition; there is no room for error.” Over the past three decades, cricket has undergone significant transformations, becoming shorter and more dynamic. Increasingly, players are utilizing indoor skills on outdoor surfaces. A fielder’s proficiency is electrifying in the indoor format.
Action Indoor Cricket hosts 24 weeks of evening leagues, Monday through Friday, and 24 weekends of national competitions for all age categories from under-11 to masters (50+) at the Birmingham Centre in Stockland Green, between September and March. He takes great pride in the substantial attendance at the event. “During the winter months, this equates to roughly 1,000 matches, each involving sixteen players; in the summer, a club can probably fit in forty to fifty games.” Additionally, the participants are ethnically diverse, with sixty percent of those participating in the local midweek leagues being of Asian descent.
Most significantly, Norris believes the sport is approaching a new epoch, which could attract the attention of the International Cricket Council and the ECB.