CRICKET UNITED 2016

A fierce Test match may have been taking place on the field, but Saturday was about so much more than Younus Khan’s majesty and Pakistan’s spirit. From young fans in blue caps, to volunteers shaking buckets of cash, to policemen playing impromptu games on the concourse and ex-England captains auctioning their own signed ties for £500 a pop – as Alec Stewart did to great uproar – all of those present in south London could feel a part of something important and even beautiful. Now in its fourth year, Cricket United is going from strength to strength. “Looking at the ground today," says Paul Robin, CEO of the Lord’s Taverners, “it’s clear that Cricket United is really starting to take off and catch on. I’m not sure there are any other sports which has cricket's ethos and history of sportsmanship and support for each other, and I think Cricket United demonstrates that in a perfect way."

The former England batsman James Taylor was a constant presence throughout the day, giving a powerful interview on Sky Sports alongside Graeme ‘Foxy’ Fowler in which he outlined the crucial work carried out by each of the charities. “The whole day's been a great experience. All three initiatives are such important charities, three great causes, and to see the Oval turn blue with about 90 per cent of the people dressed in the blue of Cricket United for these serious causes is very important for cricket itself.”

Taylor and Fowler are both beneficiaries of the PCA’s Benevolent Fund. In times of personal hardship, the charity has come to their aid, along with countless other professional cricketers. Fowler is now a mental health ambassador for the charity. “I went around all the 18 counties with the PCA and gave a talk on mental health and wellbeing,” he told David Gower, himself resplendent in blue. “And it’s just gone from there. The PCA did fantastic work for me when I was suffering with depression, so that’s why I’m here today. We encourage people to be open, we encourage people to seek help. The PCA really is at the forefront of that."

In his post-playing career work, Taylor has become closely aligned with the Chance to Shine programme. “I’ve been fortunate enough to partake and participate in some of the activities and go to some of the schools, and genuinely, to see the kids with smiles on their faces and really happy is incredible. They’re not fake smiles of kids wishing to get out of lessons! But when cricket is brought into classrooms and on to their fields, it’s amazing the joy they get out of it. But it’s not just about teaching them how to play cricket. It’s about everything that comes along with cricket – all the life lessons we need, how to deal with setbacks, working in a team and making friends. Learning to play with classmates and making new connections is so much a part of the programme.”

Luke Swanson, CEO of Chance to Shine, underlines the importance of the day to the advancement of his charity. "It’s a great opportunity for us to be in the middle of the action and to raise the profile of our charity. Cricket United has become over the years a fundamentally important day in the calendar. All of cricket gets together to celebrate and advance the work these charities do, and what’s exciting is that each year it seems to get bigger. And increasingly now it’s going outside the ground, with fantastic stuff going on with Blue Bails Day, with lots of clubs up and down the country doing their own things now for Cricket United. It’s just brilliant to see all of cricket coming together on this one day.

Despite the mood of celebration around the ground, Swanson recognises that for Chance to Shine, the work is only just beginning. "We’ve reached three million kids this year, which is an amazing achievement, of which 1.4 million are girls. In terms of what’s next for us, we’re really setting our sights on reaching a new generation of kids as they start primary school in this country. It’s incredible to think we’ve reached three million kids, but 650,000 kids start primary school every year, so we’ve got to keep going after each new intake of young players.”

"In terms of what it does for us as a charity,” adds Paul Robin, "we’ve all got different messages but we’re all doing things via the cricket family to help people who need it. Cricket United gives us profile, and it gets the word out about the difference we’re making for kids. I think cricket as a sport has to compete with all other sports, so we need to work together in partnership for the good of the game.”