The sport of King
Chance to Shine, launched last year, is the brainchild of the Governor of the Bank of England to spread the game through schools. John Stern checks on progress
That is the theory, or personal dream, of Mervyn King, whose day job is Governor of the Bank of England but whose passion is cricket. He is the president of Chance to Shine, the ambitious campaign launched in May last year to get cricket played competitively in state schools.
But according to King, Chance to Shine is not about producing England cricketers. That will be a collateral benefit. For King it is about education. "Ask not what children can do for the world of cricket but what cricket can do for children" is his eloquent thesis.
"Education is about giving children something in their lives that no one can take away from them," he tells TWC. "It doesn't really matter what it is - music, drama, sport - as long as it gives you a sense of purpose and fulfilment. If the only things that happen in school are lessons and exams, children will be turned off.
"I feel that what has been missing in state schools is the chance to do a wider range of things. Cricket embodies everything you want in a team sport: you learn how to win, how to lose, the virtues of selfdiscipline, that someone is captain and others are not, the need to be subordinate to the team but with individual responsibilities."
The sport needs to cash in on Ashes fever. King is adamant that Chance to Shine "is the answer" and believes the ECB has come to realise this. His main concern is that an upsurge in interest in the game has meant an upsurge in well-meaning development schemes. "I hope they don't start to proliferate lots of other initiatives which would simply confuse the message," he says. That seems a vain hope. A click of the 'Kids' menu on the ECB website reveals a host of initiatives. You have to look a little harder to find any reference to Chance to Shine.
That said, the Cricket Foundation, the charitable arm of the ECB, runs Chance to Shine and it has pledged to raise £25 million from private investors in 10 years to sustain the programme. That money will be matched by government funds from Sport England.
Cricket as education is a way of getting schools to 'buy in' to the scheme. The way Chance to Shine works is to select 'focus clubs' who in turn select a 'cluster' of six primary and secondary schools in their area who take delivery of the project. A pilot scheme was launched last year with 72 clubs. This year 100 more clubs were selected as Chance to Shine was born for real. Each year for the next decade a further 100 will be incorporated until, according to King, the clubs will have delivered cricket to "between 40% and 50% of all state schools". In 10 years, King hopes, the programme will have become self-sustaining.
There is no financial burden on the schools or clubs. In return for curricular and extra-curricular time, a school receives specialist coaching. But the goal is for the schools to play competitive matches, not just to have a knockabout in the playground with a battered Kwik cricket set.
The link between the club and school is fundamental to the process and the key to Chance to Shine being a way of developing elite cricketers. Paul Taylor, the former Northamptonshire bowler, is director of cricket at Banbury CC, in Oxfordshire, one of this year's 100 Chance to Shine focus clubs. "It's been a great opportunity for all clubs to increase the number of junior cricketers," he says.
Taylor is fully behind Chance to Shine; his only reservation is the availability of coaches during curriculum time. The project may become a victim of its own success as kids swamp clubs: "The right player-coach ratio has to be maintained because a child only has to have one bad experience and they won't come back.
"We've seen a massive upsurge in interest in the last 12 months on the back of the Ashes and Chance to Shine has enhanced that," he adds. "We run a 10-week winter coaching programme and we've had 70 or 80 kids in the past. Last winter we had 120. This summer we have 200 kids coming to our Friday night sessions. The only limit on a programme like this is the number of kids that any club can take."
English cricket has for years wrestled with the balance of power between the recreational game and the elite game. Schools - both independent and state - have played a decreasing role in the whole process though, according to King, 40% of cricketers still come from independent schools which educate only 7% of the population. Taylor is hoping to see barriers broken, too, between private and state schools with the former hosting matches for, and indeed against, the latter as a result of Chance to Shine.
Clubs have had relationships with their local schools for years but Chance to Shine has formalised that relationship and added incentives. The school gets re-energised and motivated children - and teachers - while clubs gain new players.
"Cricket is about participation as well as excellence," says Taylor. Allowing the former to flourish without compromising the latter has been one of English cricket's greatest challenges at grass-roots level. If the practice of Chance to Shine matches the theory, then it will have gone some way to cracking that particular nut.
This article was first published in the September issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer