English schoolgirls are changing cricket's fortunes

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The Independent Online

England's schoolgirls are taking up cricket. Undeterred by the fluctuating fortunes of the national team, girls are discovering a new enthusiasm for the game.

England's schoolgirls are taking up cricket. Undeterred by the fluctuating fortunes of the national team, girls are discovering a new enthusiasm for the game.

Figures just produced by the England and Wales Cricket Board show that more than 500,000 schoolgirls are now playing the game. Last year the number of cricket-playing girls in secondary schools rose by more than a quarter, bringing the total to 174,000. In primary schools, the number of pupils game for an innings or two rose from 354,000 to 433,000.

The board says 24 of the 38 cricket-playing counties now have a girls' junior representative county team, many for the first time. There are under-13, under-15, under-17 or under-19 girls' sides in most of them and some field several junior teams.

The board is considering a new national girls' cricket competition for next year.

Cricket, board officials say, like rugby and football, is no longer seen as a masculine pursuit. They point to a series of efforts in recent years to capture girls for cricket while they are young.

Barbara Daniels, national manager for women's cricket, says that all the counties now have cricket development officers who, for five or six years, have been going into schools and training teachers. "We are trying to disabuse people of the idea that cricket is a complicated and difficult game to teach. You can get a whole class of 30 involved with nobody being left out," she said.

Purists may scoff but one of the keys to cricket's success in primary schools has been the introduction of Kwik cricket, a version of the game played with plastic equipment, which requires neither pads nor a hard ball.

Pupils can bat in pairs and lose five runs when they are bowled instead of being called out. Everybody has a turn at bowling. A secondary school version of Kwik cricket, called Inter cricket, will start in schools this September. This is played with a wooden bat and lightweight pads. "Flix pitches", mobile surfaces put together like Lego, can be used on the playground so that no cricket pitch is required.

Highgate Woods, a north London comprehensive, is one of the schools that will take up Inter cricket. A girls' team from the school won the last indoor sixes competition at Lord's.

Dave Ball, the school's head of cricket, says that all pupils in each year play some cricket and that enthusiasm among the girls is growing. The fact that pupils arrive from primary school knowing something of the game is a big help. "We try to move on to playing something more like the real game though we don't necessarily use the hard ball because that puts them off."

Ms Daniels said: "Not long ago as a girl you had to be quite brave to say you wanted to play certain games. That has changed and cricket is one of the sports that has benefited from a change in attitude."

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