Cricket ‘school’ is first class and must not lose chance to shine – Evening Standard, 24 July 2011

Jack Russell is teaching an art class. The moustachioed former England wicketkeeper is at the front of a bright schoolroom in Johanna Primary School, near Waterloo. His year six students are designing a cricket bat. So far their suggestions for a logo have been as eccentric as Russell himself: a great white shark, a bald eagle and, er, a dancing banana.

Some of the kids ask Russell about his career. “Were you a batter or a ‘wicketer’?” asks one. “How old are you?” asks another. “Why don’t you play with Chris Tremlett?” asks a third. Russell answers them all in good humour.

Tremlett, as it happens, is out in the playground, teaching PE. At 6ft 7ins England’s pre-eminent fast bowler looms like a latter-day Lemuel Gulliver, while his year-five class batter tennis balls across the tarmac. In fact, all over Johanna Primary, there are former cricketers and eminent cricket fans, sharing their love for the game with every boy and girl in the school.

Assembly was led by Hugh Robertson MP, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics and a keen cricketer. Maths is being taken by Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England. The cricket broadcaster Mark Nicholas is taking English; Daybreak’s weather presenter Lucy Versamy is in charge of geography.

And a cheery parp drifts down the corridors, courtesy of today’s music teacher: the Barmy Army trumpeter, Billy ‘The Trumpet’ Cooper.

Johanna Primary is the showcase school for Brit Insurance National Cricket Day, an event run by Chance to Shine, a charity bringing cricket into state schools – training teachers to coach cricket, and linking pupils with local clubs. Since 2005 it has involved 4,000 schools and more than a million boys and girls in the game. And as I spend the morning watching a school totally taken over by cricket, I am hugely impressed by the enthusiasm Chance to Shine has instilled in these south London schoolchildren.

At break-time I chat with Tremlett. “Introducing more cricket to state schools is great,” he says. “I played a bit of cricket at school, but it wasn’t really available – whereas we had three football teams. Cricket can go a bit unnoticed. The kit isn’t cheap. Indeed it’s not – particularly for many young people in south London, for whom there are numerous temptations which don’t involve a cricket bat – at least, not one used for its intended purpose.”

“Places like this can be known for being a little bit rough,” says Tremlett “Introducing young people to sport early and getting them involved with other groups of kids and good people can keep them on the right track.”

And that was broadly why King, Nicholas and the cricket bat manufacturer Duncan Fearnley dreamed up Chance to Shine.

“I had long been bothered by the elitist character that hung around the game of cricket,” says Nicholas. “Increasingly in the modern era private schools have reaped the benefits of the game, while very few publicly funded schools were playing it. That really upset me. We want all of these children to experience the richness of the game of cricket, and for their education to be the better for it.”

For six years, Chance To Shine, backed by wealthy figures like Sir Tim Rice, has flourished. Now it has a keen government backer in Robertson. “There was a period from the late nineties until around 2005 when cricket was in decline,” says the minister. “What this scheme is doing is, in a sustainable way, putting that right.”

But how will projects like Chance to Shine fare when budget cuts are about to sweep though the public sector? Will austerity cut off the fragile revival of cricket in state schools at the knees? “I sincerely hope not,” says Robertson.

Nicholas is hopeful, if cautious. “As yet there’s no indication . . . that we will suffer,” he says. “But I’m not going to say ‘we’re fine’. Because these days, nothing is guaranteed, is it? As Londoners, we should be proud projects like Chance To Shine exist to raise the next generation of English cricketers, no matter what their social background. But we should be aware the time may come when we must fight to keep them, too.”

Chance To Shine costs £5m, or £15 per child to run each year.

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