Stars hail NatWest CricketForce 2005
Andrew Strauss believes that NatWest CricketForce 2005 will benefit clubs up and down the country as a host of England internationals join together to throw their support behind the initiative.
NatWest CricketForce is a project that encourages volunteers to help renovate local clubs and over the weekend over 650 clubs have been registered to participate.
Developed to be part of the ECB's NatWest Volunteer programme, NatWest CricketForce is currently in its fourth year and participation has grown by over 6,000% from humble origins in 2002 when just one club took part.
This year the initiative got underway at Bexley Cricket Club, where Strauss and Geraint Jones offered their help at the official launch, and the Middlesex star said: “The NatWest CricketForce initiative will help many clubs, be it a new coat of paint or a complete refurbishment.
“Without exception all the England players have come through from grassroots cricket and whether you are playing for the colts team or the first team, having good facilities encourages you to get out their and play good cricket.
“It is important for us to help the next generation of England cricketers. It is important that people up and down the county can do something for the development of cricket and I am very happy to support it, as are all my England team-mates.”
Kent and England wicket-keeper Jones admitted he didn’t have to think twice about supporting such a worth-while cause and stressed that the attention afforded to grassroots cricket is priceless.
Jones commented: “I have come down to Bexley to put my support behind the CricketForce project which is a great national initiative that the ECB and NatWest have undertaken to improve grassroots cricket.
“Anything that gets kids interested in cricket and encourages volunteers to get involved is great for the game.
“As soon as we were asked we decided to give the utmost support because grassroots cricket is where we all started.
"There is a lot of excitement surrounding cricket at the moment and just to come along and give them a few signatures is the least we can do.”
The ECB’s Director of Development, Keith Pont, has predicted that NatWest CricketForce 2005 will be the biggest single volunteering event the sport has ever seen and stressed the initiative has come along way from humble origins.
He said: “It’s a program that we decided to develop after we piloted a scheme down in Lingfield three or four years ago which involved a club helping themselves with volunteers, local firms and local media.
“The scheme was so successful that we moved it onto a national scale and to date we have 664 clubs involved over the weekend representing around 60,000 volunteers.
“The other wonderful effect is the amount of money generated, which will be between £15-20 million, and that is absolutely unbelievable.
“I have got a fantastic development team underneath me who have been very proactive over the years and done some incredible things, and this is right up there.
“The important thing is that club cricket is the future. It is where our players come from, it is where our supporters come from and we need to invest in it.
“Out two biggest concerns are the England cricket team and the community, and this is our opportunity to show that we care about club cricket. We have been working over the last six or seven years to show that we do care and this is a great opportunity to prove this.
“I have to say that I am absolutely delighted with the England players who have supported the event. They are being helicoptered into places like Ross-on-Wye and Workington in Cumberland where Vikram Solanki, Matthew Hoggard and James Anderson will all be making appearances.
“We have got England players supporting the community aspect of the game and I think that is crucial to show the link between the two.
Pont praised the contribution made to cricket in this country by sponsors NatWest, and especially their willingness to invest in grassroots cricket.
He added: “NatWest have been a great supporter of cricket. They have invested not only at the top but also at grassroots level. They have put in £55,000 towards this specific event.
“Sportsmatch have also come to the party with a £50,000 cheque so that we can engage with youngsters between six and nine year old and help produce our boys and girls of the future.”
Pont also believes that English sport in general is enjoying a halcyon period and predicts cricket to come to the fore over the summer during the Ashes series.
He continued: “Football is in a league of its own so to speak, but cricket has a wonderful opportunity to move up the scale.
“English cricket has had a great two years and we have just come home from South Africa where we did very well. However, the acid test will be this summer.
“If we can come out on top against Australia it could be a glorious time from grassroots up to international level for all those involved with English cricket.”