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'Secondary schools are desperate for girls cricket' - Charlotte Edwards welcomes new schools initiative

Charlotte Edwards with Keira McDermott, the two millionth girl to come through Chance to Shine's schools programme Chance to Shine

Charlotte Edwards, the former England captain, believes that the days of girls being introduced to cricket "by their dads and brothers" are coming to an end, thanks to the increasing profile of the England women's cricket team, as well as the efforts of the charity, Chance to Shine, which was established in 2005 to help reintroduce the sport in state schools across England and Wales.

And, speaking at an event to mark the two millionth girl to have passed through the Chance to Shine primary school's programme, Edwards welcomed the news that the charity is set to launch a new secondary-school initiative to ensure that this groundswell of interest is not lost during the crucial teenage years.

Edwards, who went on to score more than 10,000 runs in an England career that spanned 20 years, developed her own game by playing alongside the boys during her own school days. "For me, when I was young, there were absolutely no opportunities for girls to play cricket in school - zero," she said.

"It's therefore really inspiring to see so many girls not only playing the game at school, but also learning valuable skills like teamwork, leadership and self-confidence; as well as improving their physical and mental health."

On Friday, Chance to Shine announced that it had secured funding for an extension of its programme into secondary education, with the aim of reaching a further 14,000 girls through after-school clubs, leadership training and cricket festivals.

"I think that's the biggest announcement in many ways today," Edwards told ESPNcricinfo. "A lot of time the focus has been on primary schools and getting girls and boys involved from an early age, but we've got so much interest now, and there's no cricket at secondary schools. I know from the schools I've spoken to, they are desperate for more resources, so this can only be a good thing."

England's women, who memorably won the World Cup on home soil in 2017, are currently on tour in India and Sri Lanka, with a home Ashes series looming in the summer.

"It's an exciting time to be involved in the game at the moment," Edwards added. "This money will allow us to have more exposure at school level. I was fortunate that I was good enough to play with the boys, but for some girls that's not an opportunity, or something that they want to do. To think that there's all-girls cricket now in state schools throughout country is fantastic, we've just got to keep investing in it."

The issue of improving "pathways" from cricket's grassroots to elite levels is a particularly pressing one for English cricket, with many of the changes being implemented by the ECB from 2020 onwards focussing on that very point.

Both Edwards - in her capacity as director of women's cricket at Hampshire - and her former England team-mate, Lydia Greenway (who recently stepped down as women's head coach at Kent) are convinced that it's only a matter of time before a girl who was introduced to the sport through Chance to Shine goes on to represent England. However, they recognise that there's more work to be done to ensure the sport continues to grow.

"With so many young girls learning the game, it's so important to continue their participation in the game, and the natural stepping stone to that is secondary schools," said Greenway. "But the overarching aim is to inspire young people to build their confidence, develop life skills, learn to be respectful, and win and lose gracefully. I guess the success of any player in terms of cricket is a by-product of that.

"Hopefully it won't be long until we have that first child playing for England who's been introduced by Chance to Shine," said Edwards. "But it will happen soon because there's so much activity going on, and so many talented girls coming through who want to play the game, which is all we can ask for.

"I think what you are finding now is that girls aren't being introduced to cricket through their dad or their brother. You know it's having an impact because girls are coming into the county system having played cricket at school, which is great."