All Stars Cricket: ECB targets five- to eight-year-olds with grassroots programme

Children and participating clubs receive All Stars kit to help deliver the programme
Children and participating clubs receive All Stars kit to help deliver the programme

The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has launched a grassroots programme for five- to eight-year-olds, with the aim to get 50,000 more youngsters participating in the game this summer.

All Stars Cricket is an eight-week course that will be introduced in May through local cricket clubs and centres, offering youngsters a first experience of the sport.

Children will receive a backpack of cricket gear, while participating clubs will be given kit to deliver the programme and training for volunteers.

From Monday, 20 March, parents can register their children via the ECB website.

More than 2,000 clubs have already signed up to the scheme and Matt Dwyer, the ECB's director of participation and growth, said it has the potential to make a significant difference to the sport's youth base.

"It's all about putting a bat and ball in the hands of more children at an earlier age," he said. "We want to make playing cricket a fun and enjoyable experience for children and give them a passion for the game to last a lifetime."

Dwyer also noted that family participation is an vital element of the programme.

"We want to make sure parents have a great first experience at the club and give them the chance to have an hour back with their kids every week," he said.

"We will be encouraging parents to get involved with sessions, whatever their prior knowledge of the game."

The programme was officially launched on Monday at London's ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with former England captain Michael Vaughan in attendance, along with current England internationals Jonny Bairstow and Lauren Winfield.

Vaughan is an ambassador for the project and says it is more important than ever to get children actively involved in cricket.

"As a parent, I've seen how tough it can be to get kids interested in sport, especially given the amount of activities competing for their time," he said.

"[But] I can't wait to see the positive impact this programme will have on clubs and the wider game."

Analysis

Joe Wilson, BBC News sports correspondent

Anxiety over sporting participation in Britain has generally focused on the teenage years, when sports tend to notice a drop off in numbers.

Cricket's concern is far more fundamental than that; it needs to grab the attention of young people. If they have not held a bat by the end of primary school, they are probably lost to the sport forever. Even eight may be too late. That's the acknowledgement inside the ECB.

In part, it is an issue which affects sport in general. But cricket has a specific problem of its own making. It has been hidden behind a paywall on live television for over a decade. This has created what former captain Michael Vaughan refers to as a 'lost generation' of young people who have grown up without exposure to a compelling, nuanced and complex sport.

Meanwhile, so many other sports have rushed in to take broader public awareness. The last two Olympics have produced British sporting heroes in an unprecedented array of sports which, in many cases, seem far more accessible than cricket.