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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK

English cricket chief hits back

Tim Lamb accepts there are problems at Test level, but he remains upbeat

Tim Lamb, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, responds to criticism of the England Test team.

The poor performance of the England team against New Zealand has quite rightly been at the top of the news agenda this week.

And make no mistake everyone at the ECB shares the deep sense of disappointment felt by millions of cricket fans across the country.

While the England team's failure to win this summer's Test series is undoubtedly a major blow, suggestions that cricket as a sport is in 'crisis' or even as The Sun mischievously suggested on its deathbed, are simply not true.

There are plenty of grounds for optimism about the future - be it the performance of our Under 19 team who overcame Australia in the First Test at Edgbaston last week.

Or the decision by the First Class Counties this week to introduce Central Contracts for England Test and One Day players from the beginning of next season.

Youth boom

The doom-mongers should also take heed of a number of other encouraging trends.

[ image: Floodlit cricket is one of the major advances in the game, according to Lamb]
Floodlit cricket is one of the major advances in the game, according to Lamb
At grass roots level, the number of children playing cricket in schools and clubs has risen by 10% to 2.4m in the last year. Nearly 200 new junior cricket clubs alone were formed - an impressive rate of growth.

Nurturing and developing these youngsters is a must - and we have a wide-ranging series of initiatives in place designed to do precisely that.

We have revamped our Rover National Coaching programme so that our coaches our better equipped to develop talent; implemented a new wrist-spin development programme for budding Shane Warnes and attracted more than 20,000 children to this summer's Kwik Cricket Roadshow.

Grass-roots development

[ image: Kwik Cricket is the ECB's vehicle for youth development of the sport]
Kwik Cricket is the ECB's vehicle for youth development of the sport
That's not all either. The next twelve months will see the launch of a new development game for secondary school age children, the first intake of students at six University Centres of Cricketing Exellence and the launch of a new National Junior Supporters Club.

Change is also firmly on the agenda for County Cricket.

Next season, we will have a two-division County Championship with promotion and relegation for the first time - a concept which has already been introduced successfully into this year's CGU National Cricket League.

Floodlit cricket continues to grow in popularity too and is spearheading our efforts to bring new spectators to the domestic game.

Change will take time

Maximising the game's appeal through new initiatives such as these is essential if cricket is to evolve and prosper in the next millennium.

With new sponsors secured for both the County Championship and the National Cricket League and a new TV agreement in place with Channel 4 and Sky, we can plough more money back into the development of the game at the grass roots.

It will, of course, take time for the changes we have introduced to bear fruit in the shape of a world-beating England side.

We would ask the public to be patient - and allow our new Coach, Duncan Fletcher, and Captain Nasser Hussain, the breathing space they need to build a settled side capable of performing well at the highest level.

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