Asian persuasion

England's test series against India has sparked a season of arts and culture, reports Elaine Williams.

Indian Summer

Channel 4, and various venues from July 27

As a youngster growing up in Calcutta, artist Amal Ghosh remembers that wherever there were children on the streets, there would be makeshift stumps, homemade bats and balls - and cricket. No moleskinned green or meticulously preserved wicket here, no pavilion - but cricket played among a jumble of buildings and alleyways; cricket in the quick of heat and passion; cricket as carnival.

As a young art student in London (St Martin's), he brought his love of the game with him and played for Acton. Twenty-five years on, with a track record for creating vibrant public art in vitreous enamel, he is working on a lasting homage to the sport with the Gujarati community in Leicester as part of Channel 4's Indian Summer season, a chain of celebratory events reflecting Indian life and culture in India and the UK to mark the four England v India test matches this summer. Ghosh will create enamel panels to surround a currently run-down family picnic area in Leicester's Belgrave Park, the heart of an Asian residential and business area, informed by the ideas and experiences of cricket from young and old alike in the community over the summer.

During the recent Leicester mela - a festival of Indian music, dance and culture - people were asked to write down words and phrases that summed up their feelings and experiences of the sport. "Even here in Belgrave, I see children playing cricket with bats they have made themselves, using anything for stumps," Ghosh says. "Their spirit is wonderful and I feel committed to creating some permanent art as a mark of this."

As part of the same programme, British-Indian artist and designer Anuradha Patel has been working with schoolchildren in Tooting, south London (another large Asian community), creating designs inspired by the game for a seat to grace Tooting High Street.

In communities where Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar assumes the mythic status of a David Beckham, Patel found children more than ready to respond to cricket's visual imagery. Having been primed by storyteller Vayu Naidu, who performed myths centred on cricket and fair play, pupils from Fircroft and Broadwater primary schools in Tooting (London borough of Wandsworth) made drawings and cutouts on the theme of cricket, and Patel worked with them on many aspects of the game. "We looked at the shapes the body takes when playing, the way the ball moves through the air, the gestures of players and audience, the laws, signs and conventions of cricket. I was overwhelmed by their understanding of the game and the intensity of their interest. The drawings and cutouts were very clear and animated." Patel will use these to create a series of large, flat panels for the backrests on the Tooting bench. In addition, 100 children and their families from Fircroft, which has a mixed Asian, Afro-Caribbean and white intake of 450 pupils, have made organza and silk bags inspired by Indian textiles which Channel 4 is using for its Indian Summer press packs.

Nick Stringer, Channel 4's marketing manager for sport and factual programmes, says the public art projects aim to represent a lasting legacy for the Indian communities as a mark of gratitude for what they have brought to the sport. He says: "They give such a sense of carnival to the game, their support is overwhelming and we wanted to reflect that in our programming and public events."

Channel 4's "street cricket" programme is in its fourth year of providing training and playing opportunities in inner cities. Stringer says cricket has suffered from the sale of school playing fields in previous decades. "Children missed out on cricket in the Eighties and Nineties. We are doing everything we can to create new opportunities for youngsters. We want to build up a grassroots following again." As part of this, Channel 4 is opening a cricket pitch for young players and small clubs in Kennington, London borough of Lambeth, this year: those who can't play at The Oval, the only other local pitch.

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