The last 12 months have been fantastic for cricket in England and Wales with our men’s and women’s teams excelling on the pitch, new talent emerging and record crowds at domestic and international games across the country.
Off the field it has also been a vitally important year where real progress has been made in how we operate as a modern governing body under the direction of an independent Board, and how we engage and work with our stakeholders.
Together, we have been dealing with how we balance the need to nurture and grow our core audiences alongside the need to attract younger generations and remain relevant as a game into the future.
Discussions have centred around several key areas: the New Competition, the County Partnership Agreement (CPA), the new domestic structure from 2020 onwards and how all three play a key part in our new strategic plan for 2020-2024.
The plan binds the game together and will bring more fans, players and communities to cricket through increased funding to our counties, county cricket boards, players, the recreational game and into facilities nationwide.
Next year will be a once-in-a-generation summer for cricket fans in this country. A huge amount of hard work has taken place as we prepare to welcome the cricketing world to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and prepare to host two home Ashes Series.
Heading into 2019, our sport is in a very strong place.
On the pitch
At this time of year, I am often asked about my favourite moment of the year. My answer in 2017 was the ICC Women’s World Cup final at a sold-out Lord’s. It was incredibly special to see England become world champions on home soil.
My answer this year shows the breadth of the game. Watching the men’s Physical Disability side take on Bangladesh in their IT20 Tri-Series at Kidderminster was a privilege.
Not only was the quality of cricket staggering, but it was a reminder of the crucial role cricket can play in improving a person’s life.
There is no better example of the impact cricket can have than disability cricket. Seeing the game played and talking to those directly involved – both the players and their parents – is truly inspiring. Our disability teams are a credit to the England shirt.
It has been another impressive year for our women’s team, too. It was important that we used the historic success of 2017 as a platform to build from, both on and off the field, and Heather Knight and her team should be very proud of their results.
England won every home series this summer and reached the final of the ICC Women's World T20. They are continuing to progress with some exciting young players coming through.
It has been an excellent year for both our Test and white-ball men’s sides.
Watching our men’s ODI side, currently ranked No.1 in the world, I have been struck by both the confidence they exude and the pride with which they wear the England shirt. They are playing in a way that inspires people and 2019 is an opportunity for the team to express themselves on the biggest stage.
Another personal highlight for me was seeing something very special develop with our men’s Test side under Joe Root's leadership.
They have put together a string of top-class performances including against India – the number one ranked side in the world – and also with a 3-0 series win in Sri Lanka.
The footage of the players singing in the dressing room after their win showed how much it meant to them. It also highlights the growing culture and sense of togetherness within the dressing room, something that is continuing to build under Joe.
This is what it means to become the first England team to complete a clean sweep in Asia... 🎵🏴🏏 pic.twitter.com/97gYWru323— England Cricket (@englandcricket) November 26, 2018
He has done a brilliant job in taking ownership of the Test side and giving young players opportunities. Joe has come a long way since the Ashes defeat in January this year.
This crop of players including Sam Curran, Ollie Pope and Dom Bess promise a bright future for our Test team and their emergence also shows that our county system and our county and national coaches are continuing to produce top quality international cricketers.
While we all, rightly, get excited about emerging talent, it is also important to focus on some true icons of our game.
English cricket owes a great debt of gratitude to Alastair Cook and to James Anderson, one with the bat and the other with the ball, who have been lynchpins of the Test side for well over a decade and are two of our all-time greats.
Alastair and Jimmy embody everything about what it means to wear the cap and represent your country.
Their commitment and resilience has been exemplary, and their achievements have been immense. They richly deserve all of the accolades that have come their way.
Growing our audience
The appetite for cricket in all its forms in this country is enormous. Test attendances continue to thrive and this year we had our best occupancy rate since 2005.
Our county game is continuing to grow. Vitality Blast attendances are up year on year and the conclusion of the Royal London One-Day Cup saw the biggest attendance for a Lord's domestic final since 2009.
A key part of our strategy is to make the game more accessible and inspire the next generation of players and fans.
All Stars Cricket, our first ever entry-level programme for 5-8-year-olds, was designed to do just that and the growth of the programme in its first two years has been fantastic.
Almost 60,000 children took part in All Stars this year. Significantly, a third were from non-cricket households and twice as many girls took part as in 2017.
There’s far more we can do, however, and that’s why our new plan will place a strong focus on young people across a range of different ages.
We have recognised too that the way people, and particularly younger fans, follow cricket is changing.
ECB's YouTube channel this year became the most popular cricket channel in the world and 80 per cent of our viewers are 18-24 years old.
A focus on growing our digital audiences is important and committing investment into building the game's digital assets is a key feature of the new strategy.
But whilst this is the time of year to reflect on some of the game's successes, we must also recognise that we face very real challenges to get more diverse audiences watching and playing cricket.
This year we launched our South Asian Action Plan, an 11-point plan which aims to transform the way we engage with South Asian communities in this country, helping us to draw in more players, fans and volunteers to every level of the game.
There’s more work to do but we have made good progress in the first six months, including securing £1.2 million of funding from Sport England to develop a network of 2,000 female role models.
At the heart of cricket's core purpose is the game's power to connect and enrich local communities. One of my favourite examples of this is Sowerby Bridge Cricket Club.
Sowerby Bridge CC was devastated by the flooding caused by Storm Eva in December 2015. Thanks to funding from various sources, including ECB, they are not only back on track but in a better place than ever.
Before the floods the club was, by its own admission, ‘just’ a cricket club with two men’s teams and a junior boys’ side.
Now, in addition to being a thriving cricket club, they have also become an inclusive hub for the community, providing a home for a canoeing club and a running club with over 100 female members.
Another particularly fond memory from this year was being at Leyton Cricket Club and watching local school children rushing from their All Stars session to take selfies with the World Cup trophy.
This tournament will show the diversity of our game in all its vibrancy. We will welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world and I am genuinely excited at the prospect.
For all of us who work in the game, 2019 is a year where you want to be involved. We will use it, alongside our new strategy, to inspire the next generation to pick up a bat and a ball.