Ocean of cricket talent set to emerge

SUFFOLK'S junior county cricket squads are currently dominated by private school pupils, however, all that could be about to change.

Stuart Watson

SUFFOLK'S junior county cricket squads are currently dominated by private school pupils, however, all that could be about to change.

Stuart Watson looks at a number of exciting plans for the provision of cricket in the county's state schools over the next year.

SUFFOLK's shallow pool of junior cricket talent looks set to become an ocean thanks to a double cash boost for the county.

Worried that cricket was becoming more and more of a private school pastime, charity organisation the Cricket Foundation set up the 'Chance to Shine' project in 2006 in order to put the game back on the state school agenda.

The project sees charitable donations to the Foundation distributed amongst the various County Cricket Boards of the ECB so that they in turn can develop stronger links between state schools and their local clubs.

Most Read

Involved from the start, Suffolk initially secured enough money to provide the scheme at two clubs and, after a further increase in funds, the number of clubs involved rose to six last year.

This year Suffolk's new ECB Development Officer Martin Taylor made an audacious bid to bring an extra £24,000 to the county and the Cricket Foundation duly obliged, raising Suffolk's pot from £36,000 to £60,000.

The increased funds means that 10 projects will be engaged in the programme. Suffolk Cricket Board will be delivering in some of the most deprived state schools across the county, most likely to be based around the various wards of Ipswich, Haverhill and Lowestoft, where top-class coaching will be delivered courtesy of strong links with local clubs next year.

As a result it is hoped that a number of talented young cricketers, who previously would have been left undiscovered, will take up the game and, if good enough, start readdressing the under-representation of state school pupils in junior county squads.

“The reality is that you can still count on one hand the number of state schools in Suffolk that play cricket to a high standard,” said Taylor. “If a child doesn't go to one of those schools or hasn't stumbled upon a good local club then it is likely that they will have no interest in the game.

“Consequently the current power base of junior cricket comes from the private schools, I would say around 75 to 80 per cent of county players come from there at present.

“I'm not embarrassed by that, it's just a manifestation of the way the game has gone in recent years. That is simply where most cricket is played.

“Somewhere along the line though cricket has fallen off the state school agenda and we have got to address that.”

Steve Peyman is the Regional Manager for Chance to Shine, his patch covering the whole of London and the Eastern region.

“In the past a lot of people have been put off by cricket because of the way it has been historically,” said Peyman. “But the game is changing now and the children we see are very excited by it.

“England is starting to get some really good role models for the youngsters now. Kids want to be like Monty (Panesar), (Kevin) Pietersen and Freddie Flintoff. If you'd have asked them five years ago it would have probably been all Australians that they wanted to be like.”

Taylor added: “In the last few years I've seen that instant iconic relationship develop in cricket where a youngster sees a player on the telly and then goes out the very next day trying to be them. That sort of behaviour has traditionally only been seen in football and has been quite unusual for cricket.”

Taylor is now determined to cash in on this sudden interest in cricket amongst the masses and reach the state schools and groups of children that will gain the biggest benefit from the Chance to Shine project.

“First of all we will select 10 schools in the most deprived wards of Suffolk,” he said. “In addition we will be setting up bespoke sessions in these schools to try and reach those that are further under-represented in the game such as those with disabilities and girls.”

Tied in with this project, Taylor has set up a Cricket Foundation which will provide up to 10 scholarships a year for promising young state school players that are discovered through Chance to Shine.

It is hoped the scheme, which will be run through the Suffolk SportsAid Foundation, will enable children from a lower level financial background to deal with the costs of kit and travel at a higher level.

“At the moment, if a young cricketer is selected to train and play for the county it's not cheap for the parents,” said Taylor. “The estimated annual costs are between £400 and £500 a year for things like travel and kit so the idea is that if a talented athlete comes along as a result of Chance to Shine we can help fund them.”

Peyman added: “Suffolk is leading the way in terms of the minor counties. We have had to ask ourselves do we really want to throw money at clubs and schools that don't really need it?

“We could have tried to hit as many Primary Schools as possible just to satisfy figures, but there is no point breezing in and back out again without committing ourselves to exit routes and maintaining interest.

“That is why we are encouraging counties to focus on quality, not quantity, when spending their money. Martin has been quite adventurous in terms of how he wants to use the money and that is what impressed us.”

Taylor said: “I'd like to acknowledge the Foundation's leap of faith in giving us this money. They have shown huge belief in what we are trying to achieve next year.”

At present Chance to Shine is reaching 800 of the ECB's 1400 'Focus Clubs'. Peyman said: “It's going to take time. We know it's not going to happen over night.”

Taylor added: “Next year we will be able to go out and teach a lot more cricket than we have ever done before. I'm really excited about the amount of talent we will hopefully uncover over the next three or four years.”

REGULAR competition, reaching children at a young age and making sure good facilities are available are the three key factors to raising and maintaining state school pupil's participation in the sport according to Chance to Shine Regional Manager Steve Peyman.

Chnace to Shine aims to reach two million young people over ten years by raising £50m, but Peyman, whose patch covers London and the whole of the East region, knows there has got to be a strategy to how the money is spent.

“We've got to try and keep the focus on competition and try to make sure that all children have got the opportunity to play some kind of competitive cricket,” said Peyman.

“There is no better type of competition in my eyes than schools playing against schools.

“We don't want to squash competition too much. We need to make children aware of competition because it teaches them how to react when they lose and how to react when they win.

“The target for us is to make sure that schools are playing at least five competitive games of cricket a year. I think if you can get schools hooked on competition then you can maintain their interest in the sport.”

Peyman is also keen to see the project delivered at the very earliest years of primary schools. He said: “We've got to keep hitting them young. If you don't reach them until secondary school then the percentage that are converted to the sport will be minimal.”

Martin Taylor, the ECB Development Officer for Suffolk and Copdock & Old Ipswichians coach agreed, he said: “In Suffolk take children into clubs at a young enough age. Most football clubs take players on at school years three or four but in cricket it is much later. In my opinion cricket is off the pace in that respect and we need to change our mindset.

“At Copdock we have started to tackle that by introducing 'rascal' sessions for those in school years one and two. It seems like a very young age to start the coaching, but by the time they get to 10 or 11 they have already started to form muscle memory and it becomes harder to teach the technical aspects of the game.”

The final area Peyman is keen to pump funding into is facilities.

In Suffolk, Copdock & Old Ipswichians Cricket Club recently became the 101st club nationwide to install an £8,800 non-turf pitch thanks to a combination of grants from the Lords Taverners and the Cricket Foundation.

The low maintenance pitch has meant that more games have been able to be fitted in over the course of a week, while less matches have been cancelled due to the weather.

“If we are going to encourage more schools to play more cricket then we need to commit ourselves to creating better and more facilities,” said Peyman.

“The non-turf pitches are big part of what we do, but we are also trying to help schools that have no grass facilities at all.

“Primary Schools can apply for playground markings, with pitches on the floor and stumps on the wall. In one school in London there was no room for it on their playground so we ended up painting the markings on the roof of their building. Everything is safe, netting has been put up, and the children love going up there to play cricket.”

The best example of a team in Suffolk benefitting from such forward thinking has been Ranelagh Primary School in Ipswich who, despite having barely a blade of grass to practise on, reached the semi-finals of the countywide Kwik Cricket competition this summer.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter