Initiative targets the next Harmison

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The Independent Online

Stephen Harmison's elevation from a football-loving 10-year-old into one of the most feared fast bowlers in the world happened through chance, not good planning. During his time at Ashington High School in Northumberland he did not play any cricket. It was the local club, Ashington, who played a pivotal role in the career of the man whose bowling could decide the fate of this summer's Ashes.

Stephen Harmison's elevation from a football-loving 10-year-old into one of the most feared fast bowlers in the world happened through chance, not good planning. During his time at Ashington High School in Northumberland he did not play any cricket. It was the local club, Ashington, who played a pivotal role in the career of the man whose bowling could decide the fate of this summer's Ashes.

But the onus on clubs to provide the next generation of Harmisons and Andrew Flintoffs could diminish if the "Chance to Shine" initiative, which is backed by Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, and Sir Bill Morris, the former trade union leader, proves successful. King and Morris are two of six who have given their support to the Cricket Foundation - a charity providing opportunities for young people in Britain - whose goal is to regenerate the game in state schools.

The aim of the appeal is to raise £25m over five years, which the charity hopes the government will match pound for pound. The money raised will be used to provide opportunities for boys and girls to be taught and play competitive cricket at primary and secondary schools.

Qualified coaches will train teachers who wish to be involved, and the Cricket Foundation will supply kit and facilities for the competitive matches they help to organise. Only 10 per cent of schools in England and Wales play regular competitive cricket, and during the next decade the aim is to increase this by engaging more than 5,000 primary and 1,500 secondary schools in the scheme.

King stressed the positive effect cricket can have on the development of children and schools. "I believe that cricket can play a unique role in the education of children," King said. "It is the ultimate team game that reaches across boundaries of gender, race and class. Cricket teaches you how to win, how to lose and how to exercise leadership. We want to explore not what schools can do for schoolchildren, but what cricket can do for schoolchildren."

The pyramid system which exists in the sport can only benefit from a broader and stronger base. But its success will depend on the Government's commitment to sport in schools, and the willingness of teachers to spend their spare time supervising cricket matches.

"I was into football as a kid," said Harmison on the eve of the first Test against Bangladesh. "Cricket was something I did at club level over the summer. The more kids we can get in this scheme the better it will be for English cricket."

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