Australian cricket could suffer from a "missing generation" of children taking up the game after first-time participation in junior programmes fell by 15,000 last season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While club players have returned in strong numbers after Covid lockdowns, Cricket Australia's annual survey revealed a worrying decline in children aged 12 and under trying out cricket during the 2021-22 Australian summer.
"This has created a challenge to ensure there is not a missing generation and increased participation among 5-to-12 year-olds is a key component of Australian cricket's soon-to-be released strategy," the governing body said late Wednesday.
James Allsopp, who heads Cricket Australia's community arm, told reporters that cricket was a tough sport to get into if "you haven't developed the fundamental movement skills at a young age".
"And we've got some really strong data that shows if you haven't played cricket and learned the skills of the game before you're 12, it's less likely you'll play cricket as a teenager or into adulthood.
"Some of the things we're doing, and what we're building into the strategy, are designed to make sure we can turn this around so we don't miss a generation of new participants, we just miss a year," he added.
"That's the problem we're determined to solve over the next 12 months."
Despite a decline in first-timers taking up cricket, total registered participation grew year-on-year by 11 percent to 598,931, although this was still 16 percent below pre-Covid numbers.
The rise in women playing the game continued with registered female participation jumping by 12,000 year-on-year to 71,300.
© Agence France-Presse