Since its launch in 2017, All Stars Cricket has become one of the cornerstones of Cricket Scotland’s development programme. The ECB initiative has introduced thousands of five to eight-year-old boys and girls to the game across the UK, and after a summer which has seen plenty more sign up for its unique blend of cricket, exercise and fun, Scotland’s clubs are reaping the benefits of a welcome surge in junior participation.
It is a sunny Friday night at Penicuik Cricket Club, and the excitement in the air is palpable. The Midlothian club’s junior programme has been a real success story, and as coach Jack Hilton sets up for the evening to come he tells me of the role All Stars has come to play in what has become the club’s busiest night of the week.
“This is our third year of All Stars, and it’s our biggest yet,” he said. “The first year about 25 signed up which we always thought would be our limit, but this year by going around the local primary schools beforehand we’ve ended up with 64, which is pretty incredible.
“Last year the numbers were a bit smaller, but we were quite happy about that because we ended up learning a lot from it,” he continued. “We had about 15, so we decided to use the opportunity to get them really involved in the club, to become part of the junior set-up after their eight weeks of All Stars had finished, and that went really well. We learned a lot as to how to make that happen again – running social events, for example, pizza nights, barbeques and so on, and we’ve carried that into this year too. The kids seem to have loved it, and hopefully they’ll want to sign up as junior members as well.”
Scotland’s cricketers have shown their commitment to the All Stars programme from the very start. Dylan Budge is here tonight, putting out cones and plastic stumps on the Kirkhill outfield while the youngsters play around him, and he gives me his take on the importance of the initiative in Cricket Scotland’s wider aim of bringing cricket into the mainstream.
“It’s all about promoting cricket to as many people as possible,” he said. “Hopefully last season’s win over England helped get a few more people into the game, and it’s important to sustain that buzz in whatever way we can. Thinking back to that game, there were a lot of youngsters in the crowd experiencing that amazing atmosphere, and to see the All Stars as mascots at the internationals and them playing cricket at the halfway point of the Sri Lanka game this year was brilliant.
“It’s really great to be able to get out here and see the work that’s going on and the fun that the kids are having playing cricket.”
Fun is definitely the order of the day as the session gets underway. All Stars mascot Twinkle puts in an appearance, prompting a rush of sky blue-shirted fans for high-fives, photos and, eventually, an en masse chase across Kirkhill. “They move like a school of sardines,” smiles Penicuik President John Downie as the group quickly overruns its target.
“Apart from the fact that it’s superb to see so many kids out there, running about, it’s getting the club more widely-known in the town, which is something we’ve been longing to happen for years,” John continued. “Even though it’s our 175th anniversary this year, it’s amazing how many people in Penicuik don’t know we’re here. But All Stars is improving the profile of the club no end and it’s bringing a lot more people through our doors, which is fantastic.”
Aided by assistant coach Scott Charleson and volunteers Ollie, Georgia, Farhan, Calum and Hew – all products of Penicuik’s junior programme – Jack gets the evening started.
“We like to get them running about, just having fun and doing goofy things,” he said. “We try to put our own spin on things – because it’s so warm tonight, for example, they’ll be hitting water balloons instead of cricket balls!
“I think a lot of them probably don’t really understand what cricket is yet, but they certainly know what junior cricket is at Penicuik Cricket Club, that it’s fun and exciting, and that’s the main idea. Junior training obviously involves a bit more in the way of coaching – in bowling, for example, we’ll talk about keeping a straight arm, whereas in All Stars it’s about getting into the star shape first and foremost and if they then throw the ball it’s not really a problem – but it’s also about keeping up the same level of fun that was there in All Stars. Learning to play a cover-drive, for example, isn’t about hitting balls off batting tees any more – we’ll set up a game with scoring zones and get the kids to work out for themselves how to hit the ball into the area that will earn most points. Cricket is lots of fun to play, so why not maximise that whenever you can?”
The enthusiasm of Jack and his team is truly impressive, and, as a smiling Dylan signs a seemingly endless queue of plastic bats, one of the mums in attendance chats to me about what All Stars cricket has meant to her young family.
“Cricket is something we knew nothing about at all, but my sons absolutely love it,” said Sharon Lumsden. “At first there’s the free bag and everything, and to be honest I thought that that would be pretty much as far as it went, that they’d be happy enough but not really want to join in, but both Eli and Ethan have got really into it.
“My image of cricket before was of everyone wearing white, playing with a hard ball, not all that exciting to be honest, but this, with the soft ball, lots of different games and running about, is totally different. I can’t believe how much they love it. It’s been brilliant.”
All Stars Cricket returns to Scotland next summer at clubs across the country. Some All Stars Cricket centres, however, continue to run sessions throughout the winter.