Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Rising from the ashes

In these dark days of winter, Dennis Richards waxes lyrical about last summer's cricket euphoria and ponders how to get more students involved in the game.

As winter closes in, and football slowly but surely regains its grip on the nation's sporting consciousness, the heady days of the most wonderful cricket season in years have receded into the past.

For a few brief, wonderful weeks the cliché on every sports commentator's lips was that cricket is the new football. Now we know it isn't, but it was good to dream for a while.

The wonderful thing - and no doubt the theme of many a school assembly - was the renewed emphasis on teamwork.

Will cricket's summer resurgence have any long-term effect on schools? There has certainly been renewed and indeed increased pressure on state schools to revisit the whole question of cricket and the peculiar nature of the challenges it presents.

Martin Samuel of The Times took up the theme the day after the series ended, probably more ambiguously than he intended, urging that it "should be taught and played in every school, as much a part of the curriculum as double maths or acting the goat in woodwork".

It was a rather unfortunate analogy, since woodwork has long since disappeared and double maths appeals only to the dedicated few. Much like cricket in fact. And sadly, for the most part, that's likely to be where it will stay.

We shouldn't under-estimate features of cricket which make it incredibly difficult to integrate into our schools. Cricket is best played on grass and, unlike tennis, it loses much when played on artificial surfaces. There are 43 comprehensives in north Yorkshire; a tiny handful play on grass. And Yorkshire is supposed to be a hotbed of the game.

St Aidan's has achieved it but only because the head is a cricket fanatic and appointed himself as the honorary assistant groundsman and an indulgent governing body turns a blind eye to the cost.

Sadly grass wickets have always belonged to the grammar schools and the independent sector. The comprehensive schools have never had the resources to get to grips with the complexity, cost and sheer bloody hard work of maintaining a cricket square.

State school playing fields have usually had nine months of football played on them. You can imagine a young PE teacher in a fit of Ashes frenzy putting cricket back on the agenda. Let's hope they alert the casualty department at the local hospital first.

If all that sounds like winter blues there are nevertheless some grounds for optimism as we look for the first signs of spring.

There is a real opportunity for cricket to reclaim some of the ground it has lost. For one brief, heady spell cricket was again the national summer game. Kids wanted to be Freddie rather than Wayne. So how to keep the momentum?

Links with local clubs are flourishing and that's where the future lies. We need their facilities; they need the schools' expertise in handling, motivating and generally educating stroppy adolescents.

In our area, Harrogate Cricket Club organised coaching sessions and inter-school fixtures throughout June involving six local schools. Enthusiasm was high.

It saved the schools and the teachers a load of hassle arranging fixtures. Teachers and coaches worked together on the project. Grants for shared work, which do not depend on horrendous form filling, would be a great idea.

The partnership between schools and clubs remains essential for the well being of the game. Football has messed it up; cricket must not do the same.

One of our students is on the books of Leeds United. He is not allowed to play for the school. Ridiculous. Nor should we forget the girls. A 15 year-old from Brighton College played for England Women this year and they also put the Aussies to the sword.

Schools should also make sure that they are up to speed with the University Cricket Centre of Excellence (UCCE) schemes at Oxford (including Brookes), Cambridge (including Anglia), Durham, Cardiff, Loughborough and Leeds.

Gifted players are missing out because the careers departments in many schools have never heard of the scheme.

When some of our students, well used to seeing FA cups and European cups and the like, first saw a picture of the Ashes trophy (all four inches of it) at the beginning of the summer, they burst out laughing. Well they're not laughing now.

Here's to the summer.

Dennis Richards is head of St Aidans CE High School in Harrogate and chair of the Yorkshire Senior Schools Cricket Association.

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