If you enjoy the sport of cricket but dislike the concept of practicing during the winter months, with the long lines, cold temperatures, and hushed atmosphere of squeaky trainers, you may find an indoor game of cricket more appealing. However, understanding the various formats of the game and its presence in the UK can be as challenging as unraveling a knotted, damp ball of yarn.
In the past, there have been two variations of indoor cricket. The first involves playing in a general sports hall, aiming to replicate outdoor cricket but in an indoor setting. Matting may be used, but there are no set rules or formats, and the game is often improvised. The second form is known as “official” indoor cricket, played on a court with tension nets and a 30-meter long pitch that is 10-12 meters wide and 4-5 meters high. This format is popular in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, with international competitions and a World Cup.
The England and Wales Cricket Board organizes two tournaments: one for girls under the ages of 13 and 15, and another for Indoor National Club Championship. Both are classified as general sports hall competitions.
The ECB has assumed responsibility for managing the girls’ competition previously run by the Lady Taverners. The competition is open to all schools and takes place from January until Easter. The winning county teams then compete at five regional locations throughout the country, with the five regional champions advancing to the national finals at Lord’s during the week before May half-term.
The amount of schools participating has significantly risen, with 1,903 agreeing to join in 2024, which is 400 more than in 2015.
Sue Laister, the ECB’s competitions manager for women and girls’ cricket, finds it very motivating. The game is not only simple to play, but its eight-over format allows for a quick match within 45 minutes to an hour, making it ideal for a school lesson or lunch break.
“Organizing a game of indoor cricket is more convenient for schools than outdoor cricket because schools typically have access to a gym or sports hall and require less specialized equipment. The game is played with a plastic bat and consists of one innings without lbws. Each bowler can only bowl a maximum of two overs, and players must retire after scoring 15 runs. However, if the rest of their team is out, they may bat again.”
Laister describes the game’s introduction as excellent, with high levels of participation and a fast-paced, enjoyable format.
Around 500 teams across the nation participate in the Indoor National Club Championship organized by the ECB. The champions from each county move on to a regional final, and the ultimate national final is held in March at Lord’s once again. This tournament consists of six players per team and each side plays 12 overs (with a maximum of three overs per bowler), typically finishing within one hour.
Separate from that are the Bucs (British Universities and Colleges Sport) indoor cricket leagues, which are very popular, partly due to the nature of university terms, which leave little time for outdoor university cricket in the summer. In fact, the University of Kent won the ECB’s Indoor National Club Championship in 2023, beating the University of Sheffield in the final.
Jen Barden, the Lancashire Foundation’s cricket development manager, recalls that 20 years ago, indoor cricket was held during the winter season. However, she acknowledges that there is currently a gap in this provision, which is due to the high cost involved. With only 16 kids being able to participate in an hour and the need for a venue and umpire, it can be financially challenging. Lancashire does not typically organize competitions, but they are willing to offer guidance and equipment to those interested. Barden also notes that the availability of indoor cricket facilities depends on the level of interest in a particular area. She remembers a dedicated indoor cricket center in Rochdale, but the closest one now is located in Birmingham.
This leads us to the topic of Action Indoor Cricket England and its leader, Duncan Norris. Norris serves as the representative for England in the World Indoor Cricket Federation, while Action Indoor Cricket, located in Birmingham, oversees the management of local, national, and global teams and competitions.
During the 1980s and 1990s, there were more than 60 cricket centers equipped with tension nets, resulting in a significant level of participation. According to him, prominent players such as Mike Gatting and Asif Din initially began their careers by playing this format as an additional option. However, due to the challenging commercial model and the seasonal nature of the activity, most of these centers eventually shut down. Currently, there are only four remaining tension net centers in the country, all of which are located in the Midlands region: Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, and Birmingham.
Norris’s involvement came when he bought the Bristol indoor cricket centre (which later closed after the financial pressures of Covid) from administrators in 2009 and reinvested in it. He was then brought in as a consultant by the ECB before “in 2014 the ECB asked my company to govern, manage and develop the game and we signed a memorandum of understanding”.
He strongly advocates for the use of tension net indoor cricket, seeing it as a means to cultivate cricket players and promote active involvement in the sport.
“The competition is highly intense and every player is required to bat, bowl, and field. There is no room for avoiding any of these responsibilities. Over the past three decades, cricket has undergone significant changes, becoming shorter and more fast-paced. This has also led to the emergence of indoor skills being utilized on outdoor pitches. The level of fielding in the indoor format is exceptionally quick and impressive.”
From September to March, Action Indoor Cricket hosts 24 weeks of nightly leagues and 24 weekends of national tournaments for all age ranges at the Birmingham Centre in Stockland Green. The organizer takes great pride in the large turnout of players. During the winter, around 1,000 matches are played with 16 players participating in each match. In the summer, a club can usually only fit in 40-50 games. The players come from various backgrounds, with 60% of those in the midweek leagues having an Asian heritage.
One of the most notable things, according to Norris, is that the game is on the verge of entering a new stage – something that could attract the attention of the ECB and possibly even the International Cricket Council.
According to him, the game is on the verge of a global explosion, especially with the addition of three major centers in Dubai by the UAE.