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by Alexia Johnston

Cricket continues to grow in South Canterbury.

The upcoming season marks the third consecutive year the number of junior cricket teams have increased in the district.

There are 43 junior teams registered for the 2017-18 season, an increase of eight on last season.

The senior division has also experienced growth, as 14 men’s teams are registered compared with 12 last summer.

In recent years, particularly since the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2015, New Zealand player numbers have increased steadily and South Canterbury has been no exception.

Nationally, player numbers have increased by about 20% since 2015.

South Canterbury Cricket Association chief executive officer Mark Medlicott said although the latest increase would mean “juggling” the competition, the sport’s popularity was pleasing for the sport locally.

“Numbers are good,” he said.

Accommodating all teams meant moving one of the grades to Friday night.

Changes to the game have also been added, including shorter pitches and fewer players per team in the junior grades. Those changes, which vary slightly depending on each grade, were already proving valuable, South Canterbury Cricket development manager Shane Gilkison said.

He said fewer players in each team meant they could get more involved in all aspects of the sport.

“There’s fewer players, so there’s more gaps for the batters to hit [to and there are] fewer fielders, so there’s more for fielders to do,” he said.

“It means the ball is in play more often.”

A recent training session Gilkison was involved in showed how beneficial those changes were, with fewer wides, which meant players were hitting the ball more often.