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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2007, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
English cricket's real problem
By Ben Dirs

The Schofield review into last winter's Ashes debacle, to be published on Thursday, has looked at all aspects of the England set-up - but the fear is that it will only scratch the surface of a wide-ranging problem.

The terms of reference for the seven-strong team focused mainly on 'Team England' - selection, coaching and captaincy issues, preparation, player workload and the role of central contracts.

All were factors in England's 5-0 drubbing by Australia and their insipid World Cup performances - but they do not explain why English cricket consistently fails to match up to the Australian model.

BBC Sport looks at the failings of the grass-roots game in England and Wales and what is being done to rectify the situation.

Nick Gandon has been given what, on paper, looks like an impossible task - breathing life into state school cricket in England and Wales.

The different faces of grass-roots cricket
The different faces of grass-roots cricket in England and Wales

"Back in 2004, the government said that 87% of state schools provided cricket," says Gandon, director of the Cricket Foundation, a charity endorsed by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

"But it didn't begin to capture the gut feeling that cricket in state schools had massively declined over the last 30 years.

"Our own survey established fewer than 10% of state schools gave opportunities for pupils to take part in at least five organised cricket matches a year."

The Cricket Foundation's Chance to Shine scheme hopes to take the game to 2m in a third of state schools by 2015.

High-quality coaching, delivered through local clubs, and competitive matches are the aim, and Gandon hopes to raise 50m - half through private funding, half through government-matched funding - over five years.

When you consider that approximately 94% of children in the UK are educated in the state sector, you get some idea of the scale of the problem.

Secondary school children participation 14% (2002)
Secondary school children participation rounders 29% (2002)
Secondary school children access to cricket nets 38% (2002)
Over 16s playing cricket at least once a month 0.9% (380,366) (2005-06)
Over 16s playing bowls at least once a month 1% (407,135) (2005-06)

*Figures provided by Sport England

According to Gandon, a generation of potential England cricketers have been lost because of the sale of playing fields and the "sanctimonious dogma" of some local authorities that competition can be harmful to children.

Cricket, Gandon says, is seen as difficult and time-consuming, while a "league-table culture" has led to the withdrawal of goodwill from teachers, some of whom believe their work begins and ends in the classroom.

Gandon, however, senses a shift in the mindset of schools, teachers and, most crucial of all, the present government.

"We've been greatly encouraged by the response of schools and teachers in terms of their commitment," he says.

"When we came along in 2005, we found schools being charged by the government, at last, to provide more and better sporting opportunities, so our timing was pretty good."

In 2005, the ECB announced a bid to add 35,000 volunteers to the 50,000 already involved in the game and around 1,400 'focus clubs' have been charged with transferring their expertise to local schools.

Still, the ECB has a long way to go to match Cricket Australia's commitment to grass-roots cricket.

Ben Dirs - BBC Sport

Cricket Australia wants the game to be the "sport of choice for young Australians - the most played sport in the country".

To that end, more than 500,000 Aussie children take part in Cricket Australia's Milo development programmes each year and the game is played in most schools.

According to Sport England, only 14% of children in state secondary schools play cricket in any form in England - half as many as take part in rounders.

And Wayne Clark, who led Yorkshire to the County Championship title in 2001 and also led Western Australia to two Pura Cups, believes the English counties should be doing more to nurture the game at a lower level.

"In Australia, the states are responsible for delivering the Milo cricket programmes, which involve more than 500,000 children each year," said Clark.

"The states are involved with the schools competitions from the age of eight upwards. In terms of structures and participation, things are a lot stronger."

Sport England Whole Sport Plan 15.6m (05/06-08/09)
Lottery funding 90m (94-06)
Community Club Development funding 4.75m (06/07-07/08)
Cricket Foundation's Chance to Shine programme 50m, 2m from Sport England (05-10)
National Sports Foundation 3m (06/07-07/08)
ECB funding from Sky deal 11m (06-09)
Additional funding from The Lord's Taverners, MCC, local authorities and private business

*Figures provided by Sport England & ECB

In club cricket, too, England lags way behind Australia in terms of participation as a percentage of the population.

Sport England statistics reveal that only 0.9% of England's over 16s, roughly 380,000 people out of 39m, played cricket at least once a month in 2005-2006, making it less popular than bowls and yoga.

Cricket Australia claims 478,000 registered cricketers out of a population of 20.2m and is aiming to increase that to 550,000 by 2009.

In 2005, the ECB commissioned a report into the club game in England and Wales and its conclusion, broadly speaking, was that it was in turmoil.

The report, published by the Observer, found many of the 6,200 ECB-affiliated clubs, run on a voluntary basis and starved of money, were under constant pressure to survive.

It also found that facility provision and the training and retention of an ageing band of volunteers were major issues that needed addressing.

Premier League teams receive approximately 1,000 a season from the ECB while just 5% of the 220m Sky TV money filters down to clubs.

The ECB, however, says what money there is is being delivered in a structured, rational way.

"From a facilities and people perspective, the club game in England has never been better," says the ECB's club development manager David Leighton.

"If you're getting an inkling that clubs aren't happy, it will tend to be those that don't want to help themselves and just want a hand-out. That's not going to happen any more."

In short, ECB-affiliated clubs with junior sections, of which there are an estimated 3,500, and which can produce coherent development plans are more likely to receive funding, coaching expertise and facilities than others.

The custodians of English cricket clearly recognise the foundations have been rotting and are applying treatment.

Hopefully, they also recognise that the resuscitation of the grass-roots game will have far greater implications for future national teams than any tinkering with 'Team England'.

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