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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Stars in their byes
Usman Afzaal
Afzaal will be peeling his eyes for talent

Boring old cricket is set to cross the boundary into prime time entertainment as Usman Afzaal prepares to launch a nationwide search for England's next big thing.

The brainchild of Afzaal's Cricketing Elite (ACE), a Pop Idol-style cricket talent quest is to take place in front of the Sony Entertainment Television cameras.

Around 700 cricketers are expected to converge on Trent Bridge on 5 October for two days of intense training under some of the game's most expert eyes.

Graham Thorpe
Thorpe: hard to please

Afzaal will be joined by Graham Thorpe, Mark Ramprakash, Andy Flintoff, Owais Shah and Chris Lewis as the cavalcade of wannabes joust for 15 spots on an all-expenses-paid overseas tour to either Sharjah or South Africa.

The Nottinghamshire batsman also hopes to have good friend and draw card Shoaib Akhtar on the panel, provided the world's fastest bowler is not required by Pakistan.

Upon the group's return to the UK, the cream will be referred to county clubs with a view to obtaining trials to become professional players.

Just how Sony TV plan to cover two days of action with 700 amateurs is anyone's guess, but Afzaal confirmed the program is to mimic the successful format of Pop Idol.

Certainly, the sight of Ramprakash lambasting someone's bowling action would make for great television, just as Geri Halliwell slating a would-be's singing voice does on Popstars: The Rivals.

Mr Nasty

But the panel of pros are likely to be less scathing than 'Mr Nasty' Simon Cowell as they separate the aces from the aspirants.

Anyone can get a place at Trent Bridge, so long as you are over 13 and can get your hands on 149 quid. Those conditions aside, it's free for all.

"There is no maximum age limit, we really want to make sure that cricketers of all ages are encouraged to put their name down," Afzaal, who has played three Tests for England, told BBC Sport Online.

"I'd imagine most of them will be teenagers, but we'll be giving equal attention to anyone who has a desire to make it as a professional cricketer.

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"Even if they're in their late 20s or 30s, if they've got the necessary talent we will do our part to make sure they realise their potential."

Afzaal headed a similar, albeit low-key venture to Pakistan two years ago, and was prompted by ACE - owned by his brother - to expand the idea to a much larger scale.

"The idea came to me a couple of years ago to take a group of youngsters to Pakistan after my experience netting on summer evenings in Nottingham," Afzaal recalled.

"It's amazing the amount of parents with young sons who come up to you asking for advice.

"I got lots of feedback and went on a tour to Pakistan with some of the best boys in Nottingham.

"It was a success and the group included Nadeem Malik and Bilal Shafayat, who made his first century for Notts last week and was also named England Under-19 captain."

If you think you have what it takes to stand out from the crowd, call the ACE office on 0115 979 2512 or 0115 979 2514

Click for our new site
Simon Jones

See also:

11 Sep 02 | Cricket
14 Nov 01 | England on Tour
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