Young girls have been inspired to take up the bat after England cricket stars Charlotte Edwards and Caroline Atkins paid a visit to schools in the South East.
England captain Edwards and Sussex batsman Atkins are both coaching ambassadors for a campaign called ‘Chance to Shine’, which aims to bring competitive cricket back to a third of state schools over a ten year period.
And the scheme has been more successful and more fulfilling than anyone could have imagined.
For the cricket duo, who have both recorded outstanding achievements with the national women’s side, including retaining the Ashes in 2008 and winning the one day international and Twenty20 World Cups in 2009, the campaign gives them a huge sense of pride.
Charlotte Edwards, speaking after a day at Ocklynge School in Eastbourne, said, “A young girl came up to me today and said ‘I didn’t really like cricket until this assembly and now I think I really like it’, and for me that’s made our trip down here worthwhile.
“You don’t realise the impact you can have on someone until they say they’re playing cricket because of you and I think that’s just as important as winning world cups sometimes. If even one person says that to you, you’ve made a difference.”
The scheme has been hailed as the best initiative at grass-roots level in this country across any sport and is backed by the Government and the England and Wales Cricket Board for creating links between schools and county clubs.
“When you go into a playground and see a girl that’s really good, it gives you a buzz. That girl back in the day could’ve been me and now we’re giving her the opportunities and putting her in the right direction.”
Overall, the scheme has been hugely successful. After five years it had touched one million school children and the campaign’s targets were revised once they exceeded them by reaching the two million mark a year later.
Caroline Atkins said, “We not only inspire the players but we’re co-delivering with teachers too. It’s all about creating a legacy and making cricket sustainable.
“The staff get enthused by the game as much as the pupils and then cricket becomes a natural option within schools.
“T20 is great because it attracts families and spectators, and once they get hooked, they get excited about all formats. Once they get that taste, they realise this is actually a really exciting sport.”
On the field, the players head into a busy year for England, facing two world cups and a summer series with India and the West Indies.
However, they’re off-field duties remain important, as Edwards realises.
“It’s not just about performances. It’s about developing the sport and we take a lot of pride in what we do off the field as well as on it.
“I’m very passionate about the sport and I absolutely love what I do. Hopefully I’m inspiring the next generation.”