State school cricket is in the best shape it has been in for more than a decade, according to former England cricketer and television celebrity Phil Tufnell.
Back in 2005, when England won an historic Ashes series, just one in 10 state schools was offering cricket to its pupils in any meaningful way.
But today, thanks to new initiatives to get more pupils playing the game, there been a turnaround, according to Tufnell (pictured). More than 3 million state pupils are now playing cricket in some form in 11,000 schools – more than a third of the sector.
“It’s all about keeping the kids engaged," the retired left-arm spinner told TES.
"If we’re going to get more state school pupils playing cricket, if we're going to find the next Joe Root, we have to keep them playing the game. And that’s why it’s important to recognise the teachers, the unsung heroes, who give up their time to coach the children in the game,” he said.
Tufnell added that part of the reason for cricket spreading in state schools was the performance of the national team.
“The way the current England team is playing will have something to do with it, particularly with the likes of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow,” he said.
“Hopefully the next generation of England cricketers will be coming from state schools.”
'The value of winning and losing'
Despite Tufnell's optimism, the England national team is dominated by privately educated pupils.
The star of the BBC’s Question of Sport, who also won the reality television show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, said cricket was forced to compete for children’s time, but it was holding its own.
“It’s our national summer sport, and while it does have to compete with more football in the summer, and video games and everything else, it gives kids a chance to run around and learn the value of winning and losing,” he said.
In a bid to recognise the work of teachers, the charity Chance to Shine, in conjunction with the MCC, has launched a competition to find the best cricket teacher.
To nominate a state school teacher in England and Wales, please visit the Lord's website. Teachers can be nominated by pupils, coaches or a fellow teacher.
The competition closes on Thursday 7 July 2016. The winning teacher will receive two places in hospitality for day three of the England v Pakistan Test match at Lord’s on Saturday 16 July 2016.
Watch Phil Tufnell try to teach cricket: