Age-group cricket pricing out talented children, says former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior

By Laura ScottBBC Sport
Matt Prior says children are selected to play cricket based on who can afford it, not on talent

The structure and associated costs of age-group cricket mean the most talented children are not all coming through, says former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior.

He says the average cost is £1,000 per child each season - £400-450 in coaching, a minimum of £300 on kit, and then travel - and believes it should be free.

"In simple terms you are not selecting the best, most talented cricketers, you are selecting the ones that can afford it," Prior told BBC Sport.

"That is a very different thing.

"You are ultimately narrowing down your base and the number of kids that will have the opportunity to go on and work on their potential, and hopefully achieve their potential, and go on and represent not just the counties but England."

Prior replied to a post on Twitter saying he agreed with former England and Kent batter Rob Key - now a Sky Sports commentator - when he said he thought "age-group cricket should be free".

Another Twitter user - Chris Mclennan - then said he had spent more than £550 on his son in a single season and had done so at U15, U16 and U17 level.

Former England spinner Graeme Swann replied saying "pricing young talent out of a youth system is atrocious".

Prior told BBC Sport he had spoken to another ex-Sussex and England cricketer, and both believe their parents would not have been able to afford the associated costs now if they were just starting their careers.

"I personally think it should be free," said Prior, who made 157 appearances for England between 2007 and 2014.

"It grates that these kids are selected - they go to trials and then they are selected to represent the county, or they are selected to go into the pathway - and then you, as a parent, have to pay for that selection. Where is the honour in that?

"If you are selected for your county, that should be a feather in your cap. It's like being given a job and then being asked to pay to go to work - it just would never happen."

Prior said he had spoken to his former county Sussex numerous times but it had fallen on "deaf ears, time and time again".

Sussex Cricket chief executive officer Rob Andrew told BBC Sport: "We have made a charge for the pathway programme for many years. The programme across boys and girls runs at a financial cost to the club and continues to do so.

"We appreciate that the cost may be prohibitive for some families, and where this is proven we try to assist in order that no talented individual misses out from taking part.

"We review this on a regular basis, and with the appointment of Mike Yardy into the academy director role, he is conducting his own review of the current programme he has inherited and we will look at his recommendations.

"We strive to make the programme as widely available as possible and to provide value for money for the amount and quality of cricket that is provided."

Prior hopes England's 4-0 Ashes defeat in Australia will be "the necessary evil for people to stand up and start looking at the game as a whole".

"Cricket already has many barriers. You can't have the jumpers for goalposts… stumps, bats, access - there are so many barriers," said Prior.

"We've seen very clearly what has happened with regards to diversity, but diversity doesn't stop there. There is also a wealth element and a class element, and making sure that this game is open and accessible to everyone.

"We are getting forced to have some uncomfortable conversations. Maybe this is the moment. Maybe this is what it's taken for it all to change."

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