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Pioneer Edwards takes up new post

Cheshire Cricket Board continue to blaze the trail for players with a disability after taking the unprecedented step of employing a member of the England Learning Disabilities squad as a professional coach.

Chris Edwards, ECB Disability Cricketer of the Year in 2010, has joined the staff of the Cheshire Cricket Board as a part-time Development and Coaching Officer.

Edwards is the first member of the England LD squad to gain recognition from a county board as a professional coach, a move which has been applauded by ECB National Disability Cricket Manager Ian Martin.

“Cheshire are blazing the trail in terms of giving opportunities to people with disabilities,” said Martin.

“It’s a really refreshing approach within cricket that people with learning disabilities are being given opportunities based on their talent alone.

“Cheshire and in particular their Director of Cricket Richard Newton have always had an open mind around disability in cricket. Things are changing in other parts of the country too, but there is still a long way to go to get the message across.

Katherine Brunt, Chris Edwards, Graeme Swann

Chris Edwards poses alongside England's Graeme Swann and Katherine Brunt after winning the Disability Cricketer of the Year

“The ECB recognise the massive steps Cheshire have taken and encourage other county boards to follow suit.”

Edwards is helping to deliver a comprehensive schools coaching programme on the Wirral in conjunction with the Brit Insurance-backed Chance to Shine scheme.

The 19-year-old from Caldy is no stranger to the Cheshire set-up, having represented the county disability squad since the age of eight. He also played for Cheshire Youth Cricket between the ages of 10 and 17, during which time he rose to prominence with the England set-up.

He made his international debut in 2008 aged just 15, and in the proceeding four years has helped transform England into the number one ranked side in the world.

“Chris is a really talented player, and if you turn up at a school with the three lions on your shirt, you cannot underestimate the impression that makes,” said Martin.

“This is a massive thing for Chris personally. If we can get the message out to kids in special schools, or even those in mainstream schools with a disability, that there are opportunities for them in cricket then it gives them hope that the future can be a very bright one.”

Edwards has already made a lasting impression on the children he has worked with and is determined to forge a career for himself in the coaching profession.

“This a dream job for me, and I’m very excited about it,” said Edwards, who was diagnosed with autism aged three.

“I have battled against a learning disability for most of my life and I didn’t want to do a job that I wouldn’t enjoy.

Chris Edwards

Adopting a familiar pose - all-rounder Edwards has been a key figure for both the Cheshire and England LD squads

“I am sure it will be a challenge, and I will have to adapt to the different coaching environments but the other Cheshire coaches have been a big help for me.

“I was first introduced to the game at my primary school, when we found a set of the blue Kwik Cricket stumps in a store cupboard.

“I was hooked straight away and ever since that day all I wanted to do was play cricket. Now I have been given the chance to be a professional coach and I want to give something back for what the game has given to me.”

After hearing Edwards’ inspiring story, Martin hopes this will now motivate other cricketers with learning disabilities to follow him into the coaching arena.

He added: “Cheshire have been aware of Chris’s talents as a player for some time, but for them to take the step they are taking is huge. They are not bothered about his learning disability because they respect his ability as a cricketer and a coach.

“I hope this sets a precedent for other county boards to look at some of the other elite players in the Learning Disabilities squad and consider employing them in a similar capacity.”

Cheshire are hosting a ‘Disability Awareness Day’ in Warrington on July 15, which will incorporate the ECB Cricket Factory.

To find out more visit www.cheshirecricketboard.co.uk.