Ravi Bopara may never have made it as a professional cricketer, let alone Test batsmen, had it not been for an inner-London cricket charity that this year celebrated its 21st birthday with another Lord’s finals day.
As a nine-year-old schoolboy in Newham, Bopara was one of the stand-out players in the Capital Kids Cricket League, founded in 1990 by two men, Haydn Turner and William Greaves, who were out to combat the alarming disappearance of cricket in London state schools.
At the time, just 20 of the 800 primary schools in inner London boroughs taught cricket. The situation was made more desperate by a comparative paucity of clubs in London that could pick up the slack.
Turner and Greaves’ work was a huge success and come the turn of the century, the pair were forced to expand the scheme to secondary schools to ensure that young players could continue to play cricket into their teens. As the scheme reaches older children, it aims also to keep its less academic participants off the streets - “Away from gangs and into teams,” as Turner puts it.
In this year’s finals, held at Lord’s on March 24, Muswell Hill school from Haringey defeated Henry Maynard school from Waltham Forest. The other six finalists were: Wandsworth’s Honeywell, Greenwich’s Deansfield, Lewisham’s Horniman, Hammersmith & Fulham’s Brackenbury, Hackney’s Grasmere and Islington’s St John’s Highbury Vale.
John Sullivan, general manager of Capital Kids Cricket, said: “It is fantastic to see the League increasing in popularity and that the children continue to enjoy the game so much. The standard of cricket played in the League is at a very high level and improves every year.”
Chris Rigg, CEO of British Land, the commercial property company that sponsors the competition, said: “The British Land Kids Cricket League is a fun and exciting way of giving thousands of children across the capital the opportunity to get involved in a sport that may not have been accessible to them before.”
Capital Kids Cricket sends qualified coaches in to schools to run coaching sessions and also explain to school staff how to coach the game. Today, about 600 of London’s 800 inner-city primary schools coach some form of cricket. In 2011, some 2,500 children were involved meaning that the charity has inadvertently become the largest children’s cricket league in the UK.