Nobody who was at Lord’s on the sunny evening of 14 July will ever forget the extraordinary events they witnessed.
After an enthralling day of nail-biting cricket and unbearable tension, England lifted the Men’s ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time.
The aftershocks of what Eoin Morgan and his team achieved that day have reverberated around cricket in England and Wales for the rest of 2019.
It has been a time for immense and justifiable pride for every cricket fan.
But I’m equally proud of the fact that while celebrating that victory to the full, we have also recognised the magnitude of the opportunity we now have; a huge boost to cricket’s profile, and a platform to grow the game.
Everyone at the ECB and across the whole cricket network works tirelessly to support every level of cricket in this country, from elite levels to the grassroots.
That work went on before the World Cup, during it and in the aftermath – and it will continue unabated in 2020.
A year of thrilling finishes
It’s very encouraging to look back on 2019 and see that attendances were, at 3.15 million, higher than they have been since the ECB records began. Those fans have experienced a thrilling year of cricket, and no shortage of nervous finishes!
The County Championship, the oldest trophy in the sport, went down to the last day before Essex prevailed over Somerset.
Essex also won the youngest title in English cricket, the Vitality Blast, on a characteristically vibrant day of colour, noise and tension at Edgbaston, while Somerset ensured they didn’t finish the year empty-handed when they won the Royal London Cup.
As for the Test summer, a 2-2 draw in the men’s Ashes meant the trophy stayed with the Australians, but the series still featured some unforgettable cricket.
Ben Stokes’ unbeaten 135 at Headingley will sit alongside Sir Ian Botham’s famous innings on the same ground in 1981 as the most famous of Ashes performances, and the strength of character from the whole team to produce a victory at The Oval in the final Test of the summer was an fitting way to round off a remarkable season.
I was so pleased to see Ben win the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award for 2019.
He’s not just a fantastically talented cricketer, but a terrific character too.
He is a man who always puts the team before individual achievement and recognises how important his exploits are in inspiring the England players of the future.
It was also wonderful to see cricket lift two other SPOTY prizes, as the World Cup winners deservedly won Team of the Year and their super-over triumph was voted the Greatest Sporting Moment of 2019.
Our disability teams shine
2019 has been a tremendous year for disability cricket.
I was privileged to see England play in the final of the Physical Disability World Series in Worcester this summer, and the skill and passion on show from all the teams involved was remarkable to watch.
England’s Learning Disability team pulled off a clean sweep in Australia, winning 3-0 in their ODI series shortly after a 5-0 success in the INAS Global Games T20 series.
It was a pleasure to meet – and spend some time practising with – England’s Visually Impaired and Wheelchair Cricket Teams at Lord’s on International Day of People with Disabilities shortly before Christmas. Our VI team have a big year ahead, with plans for a Blind Ashes.
Listening to some of the players’ stories, and seeing first-hand the exceptional standards of cricket they play, re-emphasised what can be achieved in some of the most testing circumstances.
Transforming the women’s and girls’ game
England’s women may have come off second best in the women’s Ashes, but there was further proof of an exciting future for women’s professional cricket, as ticket sales for the series were up 12% on 2015.
The Kia Super League also had a fitting send off as Western Storm claimed their second title at Hove, with England captain Heather Knight producing a superb match-winning innings.
I am convinced that the women’s game will continue to grow over the next five years as a result of the plans launched recently under our action plan to transform women’s and girls’ cricket.
Through this plan, we are investing in every level of the women’s and girls’ game.
Most notably, we are realigning the professional game with a network of regional academies.
This will ensure a clear and consistent pathway from grassroots to elite cricket for every young girl across the country, with the rewards for those who reach that elite level now greater than ever.
Where there are currently 22 women on central contracts; that number will rise to more than 60 in the next 12 months, and I am certain that this investment will inspire the next generation of girls to emulate their heroes.
Participation key to growth
Inspiring Generations is our five-year strategy to grow the game and inspire a generation to say ‘Cricket is a game for me’.
It is a plan that has participation at its heart and, when reflecting on 2019, it is fair to say that this work has already started.
One of the greatest sources of pride for us all is the astonishing participation numbers recorded across cricket this year – especially among children and young people.
We set ourselves the ambitious target of engaging with one million children in England and Wales through our Cricket World Cup initiatives, and we achieved it.
More than 170,000 engaged with our entry-level All Stars programme and more than 4,000 joined some 200 street projects through the South Asian Action Plan.
The lasting impact of this is critical, and it is hugely encouraging that 61% of cricket clubs reported an increase in junior members this summer.
We know that encouraging more girls and boys to pick up a bat and ball is our single biggest opportunity, and we must continue to do everything we can to take advantage of that.
Ready to meet the challenge
Looking ahead to 2020, I think we can all be excited by the plans we have to grow the game under Inspiring Generations.
We will be launching a schools’ strategy to reinforce the critical relationship between our sport and education. We will continue to build our partnerships with Sky and the BBC to inspire as many people as possible to get involved with the game.
We will be launching a new participation programme for 8 to 11-year olds, Dynamos Cricket, as a follow on to the hugely successful All Stars Cricket programme.
And, our venues up and down the country will host the inaugural season of The Hundred.
The competition features eight new men’s and women’s teams playing 100 balls a side. It’ll be fast, exhilarating, and will feature the best players in the world.
The Hundred encapsulates everything that Inspiring Generations is about – reaching out to and inspiring a love for cricket in more people across our modern and diverse society.
And yet, at its heart, it will be all about great players playing great cricket. I cannot wait to watch it unfold.
2019 has been an amazing year. We are world champions in both the Men’s and Women’s game, and we have started to inspire a generation.
But now is not the time to stand still.
We must build on this platform for growth, and do everything we can to continue to grow our wonderful game in 2020 and beyond.