Cricket Actually: A film project to understand what the game means today

Jimmy Lee, ECB’s Senior Creative Manager and Director of 'Cricket Actually', reflects on his recent film project that follows people up and down the country, as they use cricket to connect communities and improve lives.

WATCH: Cricket Actually launches today, 4 April 2024, to mark the start of the domestic season

It can be easy to just see the challenges in cricket.

It asks a lot of you. It asks for your time, your focus, your patience and your body. You need to study cricket. Dedicate space to it. It’s coded and esoteric, slight and imperceptible. It can come across as old fashioned – if you were designing a new global sport, it wouldn’t necessarily look like this.

These were exactly the qualities that I fell in love with. 

I was seven or eight years old when I first gave cricket a go, and discovered how these aspects make the game so deeply rewarding, and the relationships and communities formed by the game so deep.

Cricket became my sport. It’s quiet rhythms and storylines brought me peace during the summer and an anchor to things bigger than myself - my family, my community, my country, a shared history and tradition, as well as a folklore. This is how I saw the game. 

Which made the experiences outlined in the brave testimony of Azeem Rafiq very hard to hear, and the many more that came forward, among others such as Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent.

As a filmmaker, I believe in the power of stories to make meaningful impact. I wanted to talk to people about their experiences of the game, what the game means to them, and to understand its enduring appeal.

I wanted to see how people are adapting cricket to make it more relevant in their communities and tackling the perceived barriers. Through this, ‘Cricket Actually’ emerged - a film project that aims to chronicle the game’s culture as it adapts to modern times. 

Research started in April 2022, with many thanks to my ECB colleagues who pointed me towards people and projects to meet with. We put calls out on social media and called clubs looking for interesting things to capture.

Myself and filmmaker Tegid Cartwright, were on the road that summer immersing ourselves in grassroots cricket, and wondering how to represent all these different takes on the game we were hearing into something coherent. 

Thanks to some painstaking edit work by our digital content production partners Contented, we are now releasing a 50-minute cut of some of these stories together, showing the breadth of the game and its people, and then will release deeper edits focusing on particular people and issues throughout the year. 

To me, the project shows the best of what the game can do and how the beauty of the game lies in the diversity of it all. It also asks questions about where it can go from here and what it can do better. It’s been a professional privilege to be able to meet people up and down the country who put so much into this game, and to make something with real heart.