The Scottish Cricket Union is wooing young secondary pupils in state and private schools by introducing a six-a-side version of the game, writes Roddy Mackenzie.
The Scottish Cricket Union is hoping to increase participation in the game by introducing an indoor version to secondary schools, both in the state and private sectors. Of the 15 schools affiliated to the SCU, a dozen are from the private sector and the governing body would like to see a more even spread.
Iain Kennedy, a former Scottish international player and a former games teacher, has been Sportscotland's cricket co-ordinator for the past 10 years and is also a full-time development officer for the SCU. He is hopeful that a new intermediate game, inter cricket, will fill the gap between kwik cricket, which is so popular in primary schools, and the full game.
The six-a-side game, which is played in England, will be piloted in Scotland within the next few months. It is aimed at 12 to 14-year-olds and involves scoring runs by hitting the ball into different zones marked on the playing court. The game is ideally suited to a school games hall but can also be played in the playground or on a blaize pitch.
The game is being supported in England by Norwich Union insurance company and so costs for equipment are kept down.
"It is possible in Scotland to go from playing kwik cricket in primary school to playing club cricket and bypass secondary school," explains Mr Kennedy. "If a secondary school does not play the game and the local club is active in getting juniors involved, then players can develop that way.
"But indoor cricket is very exciting to play and watch and inter cricket will hopefully get more schools playing the game."
In this way it is hoped that youngsters will progress naturally from primary school, through secondary years to the full game.
While the SCU is keen to promote the game in state schools, it does not want to lose sight of the private schools which have traditionally formed the backbone of the schools game and provided talent for Scotland teams.
Private schools, on the whole, have better facilities, with more access to cricket nets, and have regular summer-term fixtures. However, they have tended to be independent and Mr Kennedy would like to see closer links between them and the SCU.
With this in mind, he is writing to all the private and prep schools in Scotland, together with the state primaries, to invite them to participate in a new hard-ball game for primary pupils, simply called hard-ball cricket. It involves modified equipment, but the 128g ball is harder than that used in kwik cricket and the game is closer to fullcricket than the kwik version. It is compulsory for players to wear a helmet and a box.
The English Cricket Board has extended an invitation to Scotland to compete in the 16th regional qualifier for next year's national tournament of hard-ball cricket. Mr Kennedy is to canvass support for sending a Scottish team to the event.
"Hopefully, it's a way we can get private schools more closely involved with what we're doing," he says.
The SCU now has four full-time development officers: Peter Steindl (Lothian, Borders and Fife), Clarence Parfitt (North) and Andrew Tennant (West) as well as Mr Kennedy. There are also 11 SCU cricket co-ordinators throughout the country.
The governing body is working closely with Sportscotland to promote junior sections in clubs and is currently running three pilot projects, at Corstorphine, Uddingston and Ross County cricket clubs to see how they bring on young players over a three-year phase. All three clubs have been given financial support to prepare junior club development plans and look at issues such as player recruitment and development and coach education.
"The schemes at Corstorphine and Uddingston are working well by the accounts so far but the one at Ross County has been slow, due to illness of the development officer, Clarence Parfitt, who had to take two or three months off," Mr Kennedy says.
"The first-year report is expected shortly. We are asking for warts and all as there is no point in only learning about the nice things.
"It has been a good exercise for the clubs as they have had to create a club development plan and commit to paper how their junior section works and look at how they attract youngsters. They also have to look at the quality of their coaches and such things as child protection. Most of this is new to the clubs.
"Ideally, we'd like to see as many clubs as possible being able to get access to information on how they can start a junior section that is best suited to them."
Mr Kennedy would like to see a tiered system, with gold, silver and bronze levels, for clubs to adopt depending on their needs.
There are no plans for a junior national cricket league at this time as there are already knock-out cups at under-11 (kwik cricket), under-13, under-15 and under-17 levels which, Mr Kennedy says, are "very good and attract a high level of entries".
Scotland won the Under-17 European title last year.
Another important step in developing cricket in Scotland will be taken next March when the SCU will host a day's conference on youth cricket. It will look at many aspects of the game, including coach education and player development.