A Beautiful Game – Mark Nicholas’ first book is out now!

In his first book, A Beautiful Game, Mark gives a personal and entertaining account of cricket as witnessed first as a player and then as a professional observer. He looks back at some of the sport’s greatest moments, discusses some of his own career and looks at where the game is heading.

Below is an extract where Mark talks about how he, Mervyn King and Duncan Fearnley took the first steps to set up Chance to Shine:”In the middle of the summer of 2003 my bat-making pal, Duncan Fearnley, asked me to a fundraising meeting for the Cricket Foundation, the game’s charitable arm in the UK.

After listening to the variously worthy ideas that circulated the tablelunches and dinners, golf days and the like to raise small tranches of money to support cricket development I suggested that there was a bigger and more relevant picture out there: cricket in schools, or the lack of it. I had long been appalled at research that told us 88 per cent of schools in Britain did not play any meaningful form of the game. Equally, I had tired of the elitist tag attached to cricket, a game born of mining communities every bit as much as country houses. My instinct was for the foundation to change direction and focus all its attention on regenerating interest and participation in the game where it mattered most, in schools. To my surprise, the folk around the table agreed that we should investigate the idea further. “A week or so later, at Worcestershire’s county cricket ground, Duncan talked to Mervyn King, who had just become governor of the Bank of England. Mervyn had similar thoughts and agreed that the three of us should meet in London. We got on well, sharing a similar passion for the game and a sadness about its lack of reach. Over the next two months, we met more often and began to hatch a plan. I thought we would need £10 million to make an impact in schools. King said £50 million. Ossie Wheatley, the former Glamorgan cricketer and then chairman of the Cricket Foundation, clearly understood the practical issues we faced at the grassroots of the game and began to think through the logistics of a pilot program. At first seeking autonomy from established institutions, we resolved to fund and organise our own programs. Mervyn brilliantly sold our vision to Charles Clarke, then the Secretary of State for Education, and Ossie had the government’s Sports Lottery people onside. I went to the private sector and persuaded Sir Tim Rice to give us a million quid, god bless him. The government matched every penny and pretty much does so to this day.

“We employed Wasim Khan, the former Warwickshire and Sussex batsman, to run the pilots in 72 schools across urban, inner-city and rural environments. Mervyn came up with a simple and effective campaign slogan that lives with us to this day: It is not what kids can do for cricket but what cricket can do for kids.Thus, we told people that we were not driven as much by unearthing Test cricketers as by simply giving children an opportunity to experience the game that had meant so much in our lives. Our gospel was that team sports matter and that cricket matters most: our aim was to enrich the lives of girls and boys across every ethnic divide in our communities. We launched Chance to Shine in May 2005. It was to be a memorable summer in many ways.

“Wasim came on board full time, first as operations director and then CEO, to deliver our vision. Recently, Luke Swanson came from Pearson (the book and education company) to continue Wasim’s work. The ECB is firmly with us. Eleven years on, we can proudly say that £52 million of funding has allowed three million children at 11,000 schools to play cricket who would not otherwise have done so. More than one and half million of them are girls. Clare Connor, the former England captain and now boss of women’s cricket at the ECB, insists that Chance to Shine has done more than anything to normalise the idea that cricket is for everyone.

I vividly remember the day we launched our Street program, designed to focus on special needs within inner-city communities. We were on a council housing estate on the outskirts of Greater Manchester, and the kids were playing on a large hard-court surface we had built for them. Our coaches were working with the local police, who had taken to umpiring and coaching the kids themselves. I spoke to the sergeant in charge of the area. He said that Chance to Shine had taught the local police force every bit as much about the children as the children had learnt about them. He said people on the estate had begun to trust the police and the more they played cricket together, the more they found that even the most challenging kids became friendly and supportive.

Our programs are inclusive, engaging and played in the spirit of the game. Last year alone, 346,000 children benefited from them. At the end of 2015, the UK government published a new strategy for sport that set the agenda for Sport England, our largest funder. The three themes are: the power of sport to deliver vital social outcomes, including individual and community development; the value of engaging people who are typically less likely to engage in physical activity; and the overwhelming importance of giving young people the opportunity to play sport in general. And these are exactly the things we do.”Here are two examples:

“As a child, Soyfur Rahman struggled at school, really struggled. He had travelled from Bangladesh to Bethnal Green in East London and didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily, cricket was there to help him. His school, Hague Primary, was one of the first to receive support and coaching from Chance to Shine. The innovative head teacher even created a rooftop playground for the children to enjoy cricket at every opportunity. Soyfur was a good bowler and he quickly impressed his new classmates. Respect turned to friendship, and with that came a stronger self-belief. Soyfur’s English improved and his love of cricket grew so much that he joined the local cricket club in Victoria Park. Today, ten years on, Soyfur has become a full-time employee with Middlesex Cricket and is coaching with Chance to Shine back at Hague Primary. Soyfur’s cricketing journey has come full circle.

“Eleven-year-old Jordan, from Nottingham, had changed primary schools ten times and was expelled from the last two. Both her parents were in prison and several foster placements had been tried without success. Jordan had frequent episodes of violent and verbally abusive behaviour but then, through a Chance to Shine coaching scheme, she discovered a talent for sport. Jordan was in the school team for a cricket festival where she impressed, and regularly attended after-school cricket sessions at the local cricket club. Her outbursts lessened considerably, her school attendance increased dramatically and she showed a talent in maths, art and other areas of sport.

Cricket breaks down barriers. It creates social skills that bring people together and it helps form friendships that last a lifetime. Chance to Shine really is a dream that came true. Now the dream is to reach a million more, and another million after that. And one day to see a cricketer receive his, or her, first international cap and hear them say, Chance to Shine changed my life.If you would like to buy a copy of Mark’s book email at: info@chancetoshine.org. Books cost £20 with 50% going to Chance to Shine.


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