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Soccer faces a sticky wicket

A pound;100,000 programme launched last week at Lord's, the home of cricket, in north London, is aimed at luring primary school children away from football.

The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) has spearheaded an initiative to introduce the game to 10,000 boys and girls by teaching them to master basic ball skills - handling, not kicking, a ball- before moving on to Kwik Cricket, the junior form of the sport.

The programme is supported by the Government-funded Sportsmatch scheme and Buxton, the mineral water company. It will start in 50 schools in five centres, including eight for children with behavioural or moderate learning difficulties.

Tony Banks, the Sports Minister, said: "Cricket is not played enough in our schools, and it shows. We have to go back to basics - this is an exciting development which we want to see replicated around the country." The four-level programme starts with a skills challenge for children aged seven to 10; a cricket clinic introducing five cricket-related skill games during PE lessons with a coach helping a teacher; local tournaments between teams of up to 20 pupils for nine to 11-year-olds with the prize of a day at a first-class county ground.

The fourth level is a three-day cricket camp in summer with a view to keen youngsters joining their local club.

Tony Lewis, president of the MCC, television commentator and former England player, said he learned to play in a street in South Wales.

"That's not possible nowadays; we can't put the genie back in the bottle," he said. "We're aware of fewer players at grassroots level, so we hope the youngsters on the scheme will become evangelists for the game."

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