How cricket can rise from the Ashes

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Packed venues, record-breaking television audiences, congratulatory messages from the Queen... suddenly cricket is the new football. After the events of the summer, it has no rivals for our sporting affections. True, the England football team's laughable performance against Northern Ireland, and the rugby boys' annihilation at the hands of the men in black, played into cricket's hands. But it cannot be denied that Vaughan, Freddie, KP and the rest have transformed attitudes to our national summer sport.

So what's next? In the aftermath of England's victory in the Ashes there has been a flood of newspaper articles telling us this is a golden opportunity to restore cricket to the playing fields of our state schools.

The day after the series finished, Martin Samuel of The Times wrote that cricket "should be taught and played in every school, as much a part of the curriculum as double maths or acting the goat in woodwork". This was a rather unfortunate analogy, since woodwork has long since disappeared and - like cricket - double maths appeals only to a few oddballs. Sadly, for the most part, that's where it will stay.

Cricket appeals to a minority all the time, but to the majority about once every 20 years. On the final Sunday of the fifth and deciding Test, spectators who had paid three or four-figure sums for a grandstand view were waving their umbrellas, baying at the umpires to stop play and take the players off the field. Australian spectators stripped to the waist and their heroes wore sunglasses in jocular reference to the bad light. It was great entertainment, but most of the time cricket just isn't like that.

There are other reasons why cricket is so difficult to integrate into schools. Unlike tennis, it loses much when played on artificial surfaces.

And state schools, unlike grammars and independents, don't have the resources to maintain a cricket square.

Silverdale School in Sheffield is a high-flying comprehensive, which can now boast of being the alma mater of the Ashes-winning England captain. But it doesn't have a grass cricket square. The outfields have usually had nine months of football played on them.

Comprehensives also worry that one or two players can dominate a game, with the others simply standing around. You can just imagine Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff as a lad demolishing the opposition single-handedly; the only problem being that they don't play cricket at Ribbleton Hall high school, the Preston comprehensive he attended. If it hadn't been for his dad's interest in the game, we might have been denied the sight of Freddie charging in to bowl or lofting another six over long-on.

But it's not all gloom and doom. This is indeed a glorious opportunity to reclaim the ground we have lost. Links with local clubs are flourishing and that's where the future lies. We need their facilities; they need our expertise in handling and motivating stroppy adolescents. The rhythms of cricket are a metaphor for life. So if for the moment our kids are singing, "I'd rather be Freddie than a Wayne," we can all take pleasure in that.

Let's enjoy it while it lasts.

Dennis Richards is headteacher of St Aidan's CE high school, Harrogate, and chairman of the Yorkshire Senior Schools Cricket Association

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