Private School Cricket Must Provide A Sporting Chance

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I have spared thought for the early pathways that our young and talented embark. In reality, every individual has a different truth; a product of their own environments and perspectives. Somewhere along the development corridor all elite performers overlap, but what entitles a young player to fulfil his ambitions?

Many talented youngsters with a burning desire to reach the heights of the sport never pass the initial stages of talent recognition; tragically slipping through the net. The truth is that within the system, counties instigate academies that can only facilitate and finance a small number of prospects, ensuring those selected receive the maximum support and attention. Many young talents narrowly miss out, and many dreams have been shattered the moment they aren’t recognised for the respective ECB emerging player programs.

The ECB have recently considered cutting the number of county academies; and so replacing it with ‘regional training hubs’ in an attempt to “define a new cricket pathway for English Cricket.” By introducing ‘regional training hubs’ the ECB believe that it will discourage the hopeless “postcode lottery” that presently exists, offering opportunities to those that may not live near a first-class county.

Another leading issue that thwarts progression for young players remains the accessibility of decent facilities and informed coaching. Of course, there are those that make a rare exception. The heavily decorated Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne only developed his game late into his teenage years, whilst Andrew Strauss only realised his potential at Durham University after a fairly ‘quiet’ run of form at the well-documented Radley College.

The inequality of financial resources in the UK today means that just 7% of British children attend private schools, leaving 93% to develop their cricket skills through Sporting initiatives like ‘Chance To Shine’ and the Lord’s Taverners, alongside limited school sessions. The stereotypical among us will believe that cricket has always been deemed private school-oriented but does the schoolboy game offer a strong enough standard to quicken development?

The common view of private school cricket is that it is inferior and damaging to the growth of young talent. The majority of us do not understand why children aren’t propelled into the men’s game from an earlier age. However, whilst many criticise the structure, it is hard to argue with the number of elite cricketers that have been thrust through the school system. England’s leading run-scorer Alastair Cook may argue that he learnt how to ‘occupy the crease’ and ‘build an innings’ whilst attending Bedford School, amassing an incredulous 4,396 runs at an average of 87 including two double centuries.

If we further investigate and research the state-school system, there are many damaging reasons that have caused a major deterioration over time. During the period between 1979 and 1997 a staggering 10,000-school playing fields were sold for housing developments; an additional 200 were then flogged between 1997 and 2010. It is very simple: if state schools do not have the outdoor space to promote an early participation in sport, then the sad reality is the pathway has been narrowed before an opportunity for personal growth is even made available.

The proof is clear to see. In April 2015, the ECB selected eight private school boys within the overall eleven to face the West Indies; yet just twelve years before, only three of the twelve players used in the celebrated 2005 Ashes were privately educated. As the past unravels the facts become somewhat revealing. In 1987, just one out of thirteen internationals selected to play against Pakistan received a paid education. England Test Cricketer Philip DeFreitas, of state school origin, believes that facilities at state schools today have significantly decreased over time. “I drove by my old school recently,” he said. “Good facilities don’t exist any more. It’s a little bit sad, really.”

As the future beckons, we have heard many discuss how cricket is developing in the State School sector. We are made aware of the vast sums of money initiatives like ‘Chance to Shine’ have heroically raised. One of the creators of the initiative was Mark Nicholas, a former public schoolboy and a typically mercurial Captain of Hampshire; and he remains confident that “with an unbridled enthusiasm, things can be achieved and improved.”

I’m convinced the time has now come for the ‘over-indulged’ private school sector to open their arms, providing budding cricketers from the state sector equal opportunity. All around the country, counties and schools must make it their mission to develop young talent from all walks of life, particularly in an era where the T20 format has transformed the worldwide interest. The future should excite us all as we embark on a short, sharp, vibrant new era of cricket: let’s give everyone a sporting chance to amaze us on the big stage.

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