Cricketing board nurtures talent

April 20, 2001

There has been an air of pessimism surrounding English cricket since England conceded the Ashes 12 years ago. But when Australia begins its Ashes tour in June, fans should be reassured that a new generation of young cricketers is being nurtured in universities across the UK.

The University Centres of Cricketing Excellence played their first matches this week. The six new teams, funded by the England and Wales Cricket Board, are made up of students from 13 universities.

The aim of the centres is to open up top-class cricket, said John Abrahams, centres' coordinator at the board. Previously, only Oxford and Cambridge universities had first-class cricket teams.

This meant that many candidates faced a choice between higher education and playing county level cricket after A level.

"The scheme gives students opportunities to develop in both areas, and not just people at the top end of academia," Mr Abrahams said.

About 18 male students are enrolled at each centre and they are offered a programme including mental, physical, tactical and lifestyle training.

The squad demands time. There are matches most weeks in the summer, meaning the students are on the pitch from 9am to 7pm four or five times a week.

But Mr Abrahams stressed that academic work comes first - three students from the Oxford centre are taking the season off to concentrate on finals.

The centres also enrol women who meet the selection criteria but there are only 11 so far. The women train alongside men "within the limits of safety".

The six centres are: Bradford and Leeds (Bradford, Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan universities and Bradford College); Cardiff (Cardiff University, the University of Wales Institute Cardiff and the University of Glamorgan); Oxford (Oxford Brookes and Oxford University); Cambridge (Cambridge University and Anglia Polytechnic University); Durham; Loughborough.

The Oxford, Cambridge and Durham teams have first-class status. But, although the Oxford squad has an equal number of students from both universities, the Cambridge squad has only four non-Cambridge players.

The English Cricket Board is guaranteeing £50,000 funding a year, but John Roycroft, director of sport at Oxford University, said the Oxford centre had an operating budget of £84,000.

He said the UCCE was struggling to make up the deficit through sponsorship, membership fees and marketing. All the UCCE teams had shaky starts to their season, trailing their county opponents at the close of play on Tuesday. Mr Roycroft is philosophical: "Results don't matter as much as performance."

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