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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August, 2005, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Grassroots plan
By Pranav Soneji

The first Ashes Test did not go according to plan - after victory for Australia the sceptics dismissed England's hopes of clinching the series faster than the top order collapse at Lord's.

Matthew Hoggard coaches a young bowler in Bethnal Green
Competitive cricket to be played in at least 30% of primary and secondary school
Schools offering at least five matches each year
Increasing numbers joining focus clubs and remaining involved in cricket
Not everything is doom and gloom, though. In fact English cricket's authorities have the proverbial glint in the eye.

Record attendances and fantastical TV figures will have the finance department at the England and Wales Cricket Board purring in rapture.

But scratch beyond the surface and you will discover the hard graft where it matters the most, the grassroots game.

Last year a government survey found cricket was the sixth most popular sport played in schools - not the ringing endorsement the ECB wanted to hear.

Cricket pitches have been among the major casualties as school fields have been sold off to land developers, leaving schools desperately under-resourced with cricket facilities.

The ECB and its charitable arm, the Cricket Foundation, is embarking on an ambitious nationwide scheme to ensure the structure of the English game is in healthy hands in 10 years' time.

May saw the launch of the Chance to Shine project, the Cricket Foundation's plan to regenerate the game in state schools across the country.

Launched with an emphatic fanfare at the Bethnal Green Technology College, Chance to Shine is aimed at giving young cricketers every opportunity to play the game and to nurture those with the talent for bigger and better things.

Cricket is the ultimate team game that reaches across boundaries of gender, race and class, offering opportunity to all - if given the chance
Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England and President of Chance to Shine

The appeal hopes to raise 50m over five years, with the government matching every pound raised with a pound of its own.

At the centre of the scheme are "focus clubs", whose role are to act as "beacons" for the talented cricketers in a particular area, with schools encouraging gifted students their way.

Each focus club identifies six schools - four primary and two secondary - in their local area to work closely with.

There are already 12 pilot projects up and running across the country under the guidance of former Warwickshire batsman Wasim Khan, the operations director of Chance to Shine.

Take Hunslet in south Leeds for instance. Situated in an area with where cricket facilities are few and far between, schools in the area can only offer limited playing opportunities.

That is when their local focus club, Hunslet Nelson CC, steps in.

Michael Vaughan plays cricket with young players in Southall
Michael Vaughan gets stuck in with children in London

Club coaches put pupils through their paces for up to four hours a week in each of their six chosen schools during PE lessons and after school cricket clubs.

And that link is very much reciprocal with the schools pushing their most gifted students to the club's well-established colts section.

"We've had over 4500 children participating in cricket in 72 schools across the country, which is absolutely fantastic," said Khan.

"In total we have seen over 300 competitive matches played between schools, which is an integral part of the scheme."

The target is to establish over 1000 focus clubs across the country in 10 years' time, spanning over 5200 primary and 1500 secondary schools.

Ambitious as it may seem, the ECB's development team are confident this target can be achieved.

Khan is in the process of putting together a report based on the experiences of the focus clubs and schools, the results of which will be seen in the next few weeks.

The long term the of English cricket looks in healthy hands, which is more than can be said about England's prospects at Edgbaston this weekend.

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