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Slow build up to winning innings

Andy Tennant is not a fast bowler: he aims to raise cricket's popularity through a long innings of steadily building up school and club links, writes Roddy Mackenzie

Cricket is still widely considered to be the preserve of private schools in Scotland, just as rugby used to be, but the steps being taken to popularise the sport are more subtle than those for the winter game.

The introduction of a national schools' rugby cup, which has attracted commercial sponsorship, has helped the game to grow in stature in state secondaries over the past three years. Cricket Scotland has no immediate intention of following the example. However, Andy Tennant, who took over recently as Cricket Scotland's youth development officer, has a clear vision of the future.

He believes it is crucial to get the game into the Scottish education system if it is to prosper. By infiltrating primary schools, he hopes that children themselves will create the demand for cricket once they progress to secondary school. It is a long-term strategy.

Mr Tennant realises the hard work before him but, while he would love to see every primary school playing kwik cricket (the embryonic form of the game for eight- to 11-year-olds played with a plastic bat and soft ball), he will not dilute the product if he feels it is detracting from the quality.

"Our goal is to get cricket on the Scottish curriculum. We know it will be a long-term process but we aim to do it firstly by introducing the game to primary schools and making sure there are strong links with local clubs," he explains.

"We already have an adopt a primary school scheme in place, through sponsorship from the Stanley Morrison Trust. This gives clubs a 50 per cent grant to send coaches into primaries.

"Last year we had 160 schools and 38 clubs in the scheme and we're trying to take that up to 200 schools and 45 clubs this year.

"But we have no desire to have 1,000 primary schools playing the game in four years' time. Rather than numerical increases, we prefer to build more substantial links between schools and clubs so that there is a lasting future."

It is frustrating for Mr Tennant that rounders is more established in some primaries. "I don't want to criticise rounders," he says, "as it does help children with hand-eye co-ordination and promotes great core skills, but I feel cricket offers more of a game for life.

"Cricket has two big things going for it in schools. Firstly, it can involve children who maybe don't feel they have the speed or size for more traditional sports like football or rugby. It gives them a new perspective of sport.

"Secondly, there is the multi-cultural aspect of the game. It's one sport Asian children like playing and it brings different cultures together." He points out that when Drumchapel High won the Glasgow Schools Indoor Cricket Trophy last month (after a tournament involving eight secondaries), its team included eight asylum seekers, six from Pakistan and two from Afghanistan.

It also crosses gender divides. Kwik cricket is a mixed game: there must be a minimum of three girls on an eight-strong team.

A handful of Scottish clubs have set up women's sections to accommodate this growth area of the game and Mr Tennant has ambitions to set up some all-girl kwik cricket leagues by 2006.

Cricket Scotland effectively has a national primary schools' competition - this year the kwik cricket finals will be held in Stirling on June 23 - but a national secondary schools' cup competition is "a long way down the line", says Mr Tennant.

"We could quite easily set up a private schools' competition now, but we want to embrace all schools," he continues.

"We have seen how successful the rugby schools' cup has been at getting state schools involved, and we'd love to have something like that with cricket, but we feel it's more important just now to create the right climate in secondary schools by giving children the appetite for the game in primary and hoping that will eventually create a pressure for the game in the secondaries. It will take a few years to get that established. A national schools' cup is at least three or four years away."

Mr Tennant appreciates that, as with many sports, there will be a drop off in numbers of players when they leave the small-sided version of the game behind and play with full-sized wooden bats and hard balls. However, he argues that cricket is a game of such nuances and tactics that a curious youngster will already have whetted his or her appetite by the time they go to high school.

He believes the club structure in Scotland (there are currently 160 cricket clubs) is strong enough to provide binding links with schools and argues that clubs have good reasons to form ties. "Clubs are finding they need a youth development programme as, quite frankly, they know they will not be around without it in 15-20 years," he says.

Mr Tennant sees the Scottish Saltires' move to playing in the English county game, having made its debut last year, as a significant boost to his job. "It has made a huge difference to coaching young players as we now have something to sell," he says.

"Youngsters need role models and the Scottish Saltires have been great for the game in Scotland. They show there is something to aspire to and all children need a dream if they are to keep playing."

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