The future of English cricket could be rosy, if schools sign up to an exciting new initiative, writes Thomas Watson
With the ritual Ashes battle looming ever closer, cricket aficionados are asking where the next Andrew Flintoff will come from. With cricket in state schools very much on the wane, the Cricket Foundation's new plans attempt to ensure that the England team's recent return to form is no mere flash in the pan.
Chance to Shine, championed by Channel 4's Mark Nicholas, aims to rejuvenate competitive cricket in a third of state schools by 2015, and promises to provide pupils with the skills cricket can provide - leadership, competition and standards of behaviour. Nicholas also points out that cricket is "the only sport in the UK that crosses ethnic divides".
The scheme, which Nicholas terms "a seminal moment for cricket and for education", will be funded by a projected pound;50 million, half of which will come from private investment, with the remainder, it is hoped, to be matched by the Government.
The campaign is targeting around 5,200 primary and 1,500 secondary schools in England and Wales. Each school taking part will be partnered with five other schools in the area, and affiliated to an English Cricket Board Focus Club which will provide a dedicated outdoor area for the sport. Twelve pilot projects are already running, involving 72 schools - including Bethnal Green Technology College, where Chance to Shine was officially launched.
Headteacher Allen Wadsworth points out that, like many inner-city state schools, his college has no playing fields. Until recently, all pupils played indoor cricket, but there was no chance to develop those who showed promise.
"We've seen a big demise in competitive cricket. Chance to Shine allows us to play regularly and gives us the opportunity to provide advanced coaching for those who need it."
Wasim Khan, operations director of Chance to Shine, explains that although only a third of schools will be involved, the campaign should have an impact on all schools. Schools neighbouring those taking part in the pilot schemes have, he says, been asking how they can get involved, and have even begun setting up games with participating schools.
"We're hoping to nurture a culture where everyone wants to play cricket, and where schools get involved in any way possible."
Teachers can pick up coaching tips and gain recognised qualifications from in-service training days run as part of the project, a factor Khan says will help maintain the sustainability of the scheme.