Cricket breaks the boundaries
The Edgbaston Cricket Centre is a vast new pound;2.6 million state-of-the-art building, all steel and glass, at the Warwickshire cricket ground in Birmingham. An upstairs gallery looks down on row upon row of cricket practice nets in a hall big enough to stage an indoor match.
Soon unemployed youngsters and adults will get professional coaching in a new scheme designed to coax them into education and training through their love of cricket.
Cricket Without Boundaries has been launched by a partnership of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, South Birmingham College and the recruitment agency Pertemps Employment Alliance.
From September it will run full-time courses for 16-plus students leading to a level 2 qualification in sport. A separate course will aim to steer over-25s into employment. The first students begin a six-week pilot scheme from July 16.
It's not a cricket academy, stresses Roger Newman of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. "They have to have an interest, but they don't have to be good players.
"Like any education programme we aim to meet anybody who's interested. It's not about performance - it's about participation."
The idea for Cricket Without Boundaries began last November and came from existing associations between the college and the cricket club. Its partners insist it is not in response to increasing crowd trouble at test matches. However, some see this initiative as the right way to go in terms of the sport by offering an inclusive response to the needs of disaffected youngsters.
Nigel Leigh, assistant principal of South Birmingham College, says: "We do a lot of work in the community, and try and adopt a 'college without walls' philosophy to encourage the community into college or take the college to the community.
"We think this is an ideal initiative to facilitate that philosophy. It fits in very neatly with how we see our service to the community. It also happens to be a vogue issue right now to address some of the negative issues about some of the Test matches."
Roger Newman says cricket has had to leave behind its old gentlemen and players image. "If you walked for a mile or so around this ground, you'd see cricket matches going on everywhere," he says.
"Ethnic minority groups are the biggest participants in cricket - there are more Asians and Afro-Caribbean people in Birmingham playing cricket than football.
"Here we have three parties involved in education, cricket and employment combining to say: 'how do you build up the self-esteem of people who feel they have no opportunity in life?' You do it through their interest."
Those coming on the courses get kit and tracksuits, professional cricket coaching from the club and teaching from South Birmingham College tutors. At the end of the course students play in a cricket tournament.
The cricket element of the course includes understanding the game, leadership, motivation and teamwork, as well as the technical skills of bowling, batting and fielding.
"We're teaching them how to manage the game, how to play well technically, but also to understand about themselves," says Newman.
The college offers progression routes into higher education - it runs a higher national diploma in sport with the University of Wolverhampton and plans a foundation degree in leisure management.
The partnership also plans to set up a Learndirect centre in the gallery of the Edgbaston Cricket Centre. Warwickshire county cricket club has already had inquiries from other clubs and wants to see the initiative rolled out nationwide.
"This is certainly a first in the way we're doing it," says Roger Newman. "We're not talking about an academy because we're not looking at excellence here.
"Obviously it would be a bonus to us if the next England captain came through this system. That would be a huge boost, but we're not looking for that."