Endless summer

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Neil Cameron wants cricket in schools 12 months of the year. He explains to Roddy Mackenzie how it can happen

Making cricket an all-year sport for schools may seem like mission impossible, given the Scottish climate. But, as the traditional season closes, Neil Cameron, the first full-time development officer for the game in the Borders, is already plotting to fill the calendar.

If, at first glance, it appears over-ambitious for someone who only started his new post in July, Cameron has previously made his mark. As a part-time development officer, he successfully brought a cricket taster to 700 children in 23 Borders primary schools in the summer of last year. This year, word had spread to 41 primary schools and 1,000 children were involved.

He has also been integral in the rise of Peebles County, a club that had previously struggled to raise an XI on a Saturday; today, as well as four senior teams, there are active junior programmes at under-11, under-13 and under-15.

Cameron, 45, was brought up in Wiltshire and first played the game at seven. So he's accustomed to a strong cricket framework but has had virtually to build his own since arriving in Scotland five years ago.

"Cricket thrived in the Borders until the late 1970s and early 1980s," he explains. "When rugby finished, many players went on to play cricket in the summer. Clubs had strong links to the high schools because of this, and the game was very strong."

"After the teachers' dispute, the cricket clubs were left to recruit the young players but, for one reason or other, it didn't happen and schools'

cricket virtually died.

"Clubs wanted the complete article at aged 14-15 and did not have the time to invest in training young players from scratch. When the game is taught in schools, you have a captive audience and that undoubtedly helps."

Cameron is now trying to build on the interest shown last term and on his summer camps. He is organising more next month and hopes to stage festivals from January to March.

The difficulty of keeping interest going throughout the winter months is the lack of indoor facilities. Only two local secondary schools - Hawick and Berwickshire - have indoor nets. Even then, Berwickshire has no mats.

Nevertheless, Kwik Cricket, the introductory form of the game for primary schools, can be played indoors. Young children have been taking to it enthusiastically.

"We're very lucky in that a lot of the children have good bat-ball co-ordination, as rounders is played widely in schools in the Borders," Mr Cameron says."It's a very different game and the beauty of it is that it can be played anywhere at anytime and can go on through the winter.

"What we are trying to do is get Kwik Cricket played from P4-P6 and then from P7-S2 get the children to play Inter Cricket, which is the intermediate form of the game and involves a harder and heavier ball.

"Kwik cricket is still a popular training game but we're trying to encourage clubs to stop children playing it when they reach 10-11 years old and move on."

He appreciates the culture is different from where he was brought up but believes that sports can thrive side by side.

"I spoke to one teacher who recently came to Peebles High from Cumbria and, when he asked if they had a cricket team, they reacted as if he was an alien visiting from another planet.

"In his experience in Cumbria, there was a waiting list for teachers to become involved in running a team. He was a keen club cricketer and anxious to help out but had to wait for someone else to move on. That is not the case here and so we have to work harder to change attitudes."

The dramatic climax to The Ashes has kept cricket in the spotlight throughout the summer. The series may have overshadowed the good work that has been going on in Scotland, where the senior, under-23 and under-19 teams have progressed in their respective World Cups, but Cameron believes it will benefit the Scottish game long term.

"The Ashes has made cricket sexy again and it will have a spin-off for us in Scotland," he says. "It has brought the game into the public eye and schoolchildren cannot help but notice. It may take time to filter through but I think it will make a difference.

"My long-term aim is to have under-10 sections at every cricket club in the Borders and play under-10 matches regularly.

"I'd also like the Scottish Schools' Cup extended to take in more state schools and broaden the competition. Hopefully, one day, we can even see a state school win it, as it will show that the game is spreading."

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