THINK back to a simpler time.
When the weather was warm, people would pull on white or cream outfits and hit a leather ball with a willow bat.
When it turned cold, singlet guernseys would be paired with shorts and boots and players would kick a football about.
Football and cricket co-existed peacefully and people in country towns would play both comfortably.
Times have changed.
Football clubs, looking to mimic the schedules of teams at the elite level, are starting pre-season sometimes as early as November.
Players are fitter than ever and while not all coaches support starting so early, their hand is forced if they're to maintain pace with rivals.
The result is that less players are doubling up. Increasingly, footballers are footballers and cricketers are cricketers.
More demanding football schedules, family and work mean less people can justify giving up a Saturday for cricket in summer.
The research stacks up. A poll on The Standard website, which had 183 votes, found 87.43 (160) per cent of readers believed football's increased professional was hurting cricket.
Just 12.57 per cent, or 23 votes, said football wasn't affecting cricket's prosperity.
For Josh Stapleton, a long-time footballer at North Warrnambool Eagles and Old Collegians and captain-coach at Merrivale Cricket Club, the time pressure of both sports is tough to manage.
"It is becoming harder to find time," he said.
"My young lad is now turning three in May and that adds another spanner to the works. I know it's getting to the point where I'll probably have to choose one or the other eventually.
"I'm pretty lucky I have a very tolerant wife and she lets me go and play. She's always said she never wants to hold me back.
"I'm very grateful for that. I can definitely see how people have to pull one or the other, because it can be very hard after a long week at work backing up for training (for both sports)."
Stapleton, who is now plying his football trade at Mininera and District football league club Caramut, said increased professionalism in the sport meant cricket was falling by the wayside.
"As much as it pains me to say, cricket is brushed aside pretty quickly," he said.
"There's so much money in football and cricket clubs just can't compete with that. I'm on a committee and can say we don't have the money to splurge on players.
"I think the salary cap in footy in something like $AUD130,000 and there's no chance any cricket club has that kind of cash to sling around."
Numbers, particularly in lower grades, are also feeling the pinch as footy ramps up pre-season.
Stapleton said traditionally players dwindled around Christmas due to holidays and also fell away towards the end of the campaign.
"We're not too bad in division one. We have a few guys that play footy and cricket but I find that cricket is a bit of a dying art (for those that do both)," he said.
"Jeremy (Burgess) and I find that in the lower grades, in the threes, that it's hard to get a team around Christmas time. We're struggling again towards the end of the season to get teams on the park because we just don't have the cattle.
"I think that's affecting a lot of clubs. I know Woodford has had a hard time getting a thirds team as well."
The Standard research found Allansford (two) and West Warrnambool (three) had the least amount of division one cricketers playing regular football.
Nestles (four), Russells Creek (four), Dennington (four), Port Fairy (five), Brierly-Christ Church (five), Merrivale (five) Wesley-CBC (six) and Woodford (eight) rounded it out.
Some players are cut out for both sports. Stapleton pointed to Manny Sandow - a Maskell Medal-winning ruckman with South Warrnambool - as an example.
"He's a hell of a player and he just loves the fitness side of it. He'll train with us, and then do the full footy schedule as well," he said.
"He'll do something Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, play cricket and then do all the practice match stuff for footy.
"That's credit to him. If you can do it, why not? But that work-life balance and sport in there is hard to achieve."
Some moot more one-day and Twenty20 cricket as the solution. Stapleton, a cricket traditionalist, disagrees.
He told The Standard moving 20-over cricket back to round-robin fixtures mid-week was his preferred option.
Merrivale's Warrnambool and District Cricket Association rival, Nestles, is facing similar challenges.
Factory skipper Geoff Williams, also a lover of two-day cricket, said flexibility was key to ensure the sport's longevity in the battle for numbers.
"The way the world is, people want things now," Williams said.
"I've grown up playing in whites with a red ball, but that's not what people are getting shoved down their throats on TV.
"We have to flexible and open-minded and if we're striving to play country week, which is all one-day cricket, do we need to play two-day?
"It's not just Warrnambool, it's everywhere. You see on the Grade Cricketer and Ressies Footballer pages on Facebook that the same issues are facing every club in Australia."
Williams said Koroit's Todd White and North Warrnambool Eagles' Jackson Couch were the only late starters at Nestles due to long football seasons which culminated in Hampden league grand final action.
"We've been pretty lucky over the years. A lot of our boys love cricket and have kept the club surviving," he said.
"Cricket is a bit like the ugly duckling in a way. Football clubs don't like it because cricket clubs often train on their ovals and councils are often supportive of footy (rather than cricket)."
Steve Blacker, a former Woolsthorpe coach and south-west cricket stalwart, said cricket's issues weren't simply the result of football's rise.
"I come from a slightly different viewpoint. I think the problem started 20 years ago when Milo Cricket was first introduced," he said.
"It was a direct copy of the AFL's Auskick and it started kids too early. Batting, as a skill, is something that you have for life when you're taught correctly.
"As you grow and get stronger, it comes through. But with kids that young, it's all about bottom hand and scoring runs. That technique takes over.
"When I was playing, you didn't play until under 16s so you had time to develop that. You played tennis when you were younger than that."
Blacker said the growing amount of money in country football and more "time-poor" people were also contributing factors to a decline in the standard of cricket.
"I think time is a factor, but in shortening the game, I think you shorten the skill level too," he said.
"Anyone who says the quality of cricket hasn't declined locally in the last 20 years has rocks in their head.
"I'm a level two coach so I'm not an idiot in that regard. It's in batting technique. There are a lot of blokes who can slog a ball but not (bat technically correct)."
Blacker, however, said the rise of female cricket was encouraging.
"Female cricket may save it," he said.
Warrnambool and District Cricket Association chairman Gordon McLeod said junior participation numbers were "as high as I can remember".
He said female cricket and junior pathways were pivotal to ensuring the long-term success of the sport.
"It's difficult for people to play both (football and cricket) these days," McLeod said.
"But we think things like female cricket are helping to improve club culture. Integrating women's teams into clubs is important. Football and netball is together.
"Cricket has been male-dominated for a long time so it's exciting to get the women's game happening as it adds a different feel around clubs.
"It's making cricket clubs a more family-friendly environment."
What does cricket look like in 10, 15 and 25 years? With football only building its professionalism, Russells Creek skipper Cam Williams has a radical idea.
The wicketkeeper-batsman, a multiple Victoria Country representative, said associations across the south-west could form a superleague with an emphasis on promotion and relegation.
Williams said the formula was successful in Geelong and could ensure cricket's sustainability into the future.
"It would take a lot of mapping out, but I think it's hard having three leagues in the vicinity of 45 minutes," he said.
"I think some clubs are probably too proud to admit where it's at but I think it would really refresh things.
"We know football is the main preference around this part of the world but cricket has a fair foot in the door and I think this would certainly be for the greater good.
"We all want cricket to prosper and go well. If you look at two clubs like a Russells Creek and a Mailors Flat, for example, you could say (hypothetically) 'Creek needs two top-order batsman and Mailors Flat has that'.
"You could consider merging and make it a big club with three grounds. Train in town one week, out there another week."
Can cricket ride the challenges posed by football and add to its 400-year history? If the south-west's custodians are anything to go by, it won't die wondering.
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