NSW and Sydney Sixers star Daniel Hughes understands better than most the influence that a visit from a first-class cricketer can have on young children learning the game.
Today, the dynamic left-handed opener, 29, is one of the rising stars of the Big Bash and the NSW Sheffield Shield team.
But he remembers being in primary school and feeling the buzz created when a professional cricketer came to talk about the game.
“I was in the same position as you guys,” Hughes told dozens of local year 5 and 6 children at Auston Oval, in Morisset, on Wednesday.
“A few years ago, a guy called Brad Haddin [the former NSW and Australian wicket-keeper and batsman] came and did this chat with me.”
Hughes was joined by Sydney Sixers team-mates Ben Dwarshius, Lauren Cheatle and Jack Edwards at the oval as part of Cricket NSW’s annual statewide Country Blitz.
The quartet gave some coaching tips and met children from Bonnells Bay, Dora Creek, Cooranbong and St John Vianney schools, who were playing in the Woolworths Cricket Blast schools gala day.
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The players took part in a question and answer session with the children who, for the most part, were happy to ask straightforward questions about each cricketer’s best game, toughest opponent, and reason for liking the game.
But one student deviated from the script when he asked “how much money do you earn?”, which prompted smiles all round.
Hughes took the microphone and said: “Ben just played in the IPL (Indian Premier League), and he can’t count it.”
The parents and teachers got the idea.
Tim Cox, the Cricket NSW development manager for Lake Macquarie, said some of the recent modifications to the game which were designed to boost participation by juniors were on show at the gala day.
“Shorter pitches. Shorter matches. Fewer players per team. And more action. Junior cricket is all about maximum fun and maximum enjoyment,” he said.
Playing on grass with a softer ball, and relaxed rules provided a “softer entry point” to the game for children, he said.
“And from a parent’s perspective, junior cricket doesn’t have to take up all of Saturday morning.”
Under-10 matches typically take between an hour and 90 minutes to play.
For under-11s and under-12s, it’s about 2 hours, he said.
“So that’s about the same length of time as it takes for a game of soccer. Cricket has adapted with the times,” he said.
Mr Cox said the other major change to junior cricket was the increased participation by girls.
“There’s been some huge growth in the girls’ game now that women players can be professionals,” he said.
So it was no surprise to learn that schoolgirls flocked to young Australian star Lauren Cheatle at every junior clinic she attended.
Cheatle said her cricket journey started in the same manner that most children discover the game – playing with her brother and father in their backyard.
“I started playing boys cricket when I was 10,” she told the Westlakes children.
“I know when I first started playing, I was literally the only girl playing, so it’s really cool to see so many girls here and enjoying it.”
She observed that the girls almost outnumbered the boys at the Morisset gala day.
Mr Cox said there would be more announcements about local junior cricket opportunities in the coming weeks.