Diane Spencer reports on new tournaments which extend competitive cricket to all secondary age-groups. Secondary pupils will now be able to play competitive cricket throughout their school career with the launch of a new national competition for under-12s and 13s.
This Pounds 90,000 three-year scheme is a joint venture between the Government-funded Sportsmatch and Calypso, a soft-drinks manufacturer based in Cheshire. Previously there were only competitions for the under-11s, 14s and 15s organised by the English Schools Cricket Association .
The new competition is also being run by the ESCA and sponsored by the Lord's Taverners. A 30-over competition in the first year is intended to produce a county winner and, in the second year, a national 35-over competition will be played between the county winners from the first year. In the meantime the under-12s will compete for the county competition, and so on.
The final will be played at a county ground, probably at Old Trafford where the launch took place last week with the help of Michael Atherton, the England captain, several members of the Lancashire team and a group of boys from Hayward comprehensive in Bolton. The boys, all from Asian backgrounds, were given impromptu fielding practise by John Crawley (England and Lancashire) under a lowering Manchester sky.
John Barclay, assistant manager of the England team last winter, described the competition as "a tremendous step forward as it completes the link in the chain". He was delighted that the players helped to launch it. "It is wonderful that the boys can meet their heroes and role models - encouragement and enthusiasm are the key words."
Ken Lake, secretary of ESCA, the body responsible for developing school cricket, said girls' or mixed teams could also enter, pointing out that one of the association's aims was to increase opportunities for girls. The competition has already attracted entries from 1,300 schools and he is confident the target of 1,800 will be reached.
John Heaton, the cricket-loving head of Hayward, said the boys were madly keen.
He hoped some would make their way through the school and county system like Atherton and Crawley.
Mr Heaton, as secretary of the Lancashire branch of ESCA, is in charge of arranging the competition in the area "so we had to make sure our school entered".
Hayward has 1,000 pupils, 70 per cent of whom are from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds. The school manages to keep four teams going despite deteriorating pitches, said David Crowther, Hayward's former head of PE. He found it interesting, and sad, that none of the white students and no girls showed any interest in the game, although Bolton was "cricket-mad".
Sportsmatch has poured about Pounds 10 million into 65 grassroots sports schemes since it began life in 1993. It has also generated Pounds 20 million with matching funding from sponsors.
Adam Tarrant, Sportsmatch manager, said: "We could spend double that amount - it has been very successful and has all-party support."
In a way it had been a victim of its success and of Government cuts, he added. And he was confident that the sponsor of the competition would benefit from its investment and even increase it - not least because its directors and chairman love the game.
Sportsmatch, Warwick House, 4th Floor, 25-27 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W OPP