Tuesday 22 August 2017

Street cricket: the fast-paced format of the game that's got Kumar Sangakkara's seal of approval

Short innings and an inclusive atmosphere, Street cricket is an entertaining game.

By Max McLean

A minute or so after legendary Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara arrived at the Chance To Shine Street cricket event in Camden, one of the young batsmen directed a firm pull shot in his direction.

It was an appropriate welcome to a format of the game which is fast-paced, but above all inclusive and welcoming.

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Chance To Shine is a national charity that takes cricket to schools and communities, and their StreetChance project offers something a little different.

Playing with a tennis ball covered in electrical tape, innings last just 20 balls each – the scoring system is designed to be fast-paced too, with runs scored depending on which walls the ball hits.

“This is a fantastic initiative,” Sangakkara, fifth on the all-time Test run-scorers list with 12,400 runs to his name, said.

“It’s great to see kids from various backgrounds play and have fun, get to know each other, and the sense of fun, I think, is the most important part as well as the feeling of community.”

The game indeed promotes social cohesion. Having been launched in 2008, Street has reached over 38,000 youngsters, with 85% of participants not being members of a cricket club before getting involved with the scheme.

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Furthermore 76% of participants are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, while more than three quarters of projects are based in areas with below the national average green space. Many projects are based in deprived areas of England.

The eight-to-16 year-olds at this particular event, with Sangakkara in attendance, finished up their initial game before being joined by the legendary batsman for a drill. Middlesex’s head of community and outreach, Pete Jones, explained that a mixture of activities is key.

He said: “Our coaches will come in and start off with a game, then we’ll do a skill, then we’ll get back into a game – the kids are here to play.

“It’s short, it’s sharp, it’s fun to play. It’s great! ‘Quick, next one in, you’re out, next one in’. It’s a quick turnaround.”

And while cricket has a traditional reputation for being rule-heavy, Street is structured but relaxed – a perfect mix for the kids.

“Say a session starts at five, some kids might leave at 18:00, maybe come back at 18:30. It doesn’t matter,” he said.

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The sessions are run by a mixture of coaches and community workers. Selem Ali is a local youth worker and a key figure in the area for getting the kids to play cricket each week.

“Street cricket is bringing the community together,” he said. “Most of the youth that do come here for the cricket session don’t attend our youth club, so this is the only session a lot of them come to to get together and meet new friends.

“It’s more to do with learning new skills, to be honest. So if you’re a batsman, you don’t only practice batting. You come here and you practice everything – bowling, fielding and batting.”

In 2016 this particular project in Camden was voted the Project of the Year at the Chance To Shine Annual Awards. It’s clearly a success, and something the kids are happy to keep coming back to.

Miraz is a 14-year-old cricketer who has been attending the scheme for two years, and it’s clear what he likes about the game: “I enjoy that the staff are really friendly, and we hit sixes,” he said.

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Towards the end of the session Sangakkara came over for a chat, and discussed the sort of thing he told the kids during a catching drill.

“It was just a few pointers on some basics of the game, but not so much that the aspect of fun is taken away,” he said.

“I think it’s important at this age that they have fun. That is how they will discover their aptitude for any sport, and sometimes you need to take a step back and just let them play.”

Kumar Sangakkara was attending a Chance To Shine Street cricket session as part of Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week. To find out more, visit www.chancetoshine.org/Street.

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