Two weeks ago, if you had asked most children in southern Israel what they thought of cricket, the answer would have been a blank stare. But last week, thanks to a joint project by the Israel Cricket Association and the British charity, Cricket for Change, the response was overwhelming. As the old 10CC song had it: “I don’t like cricket. I LOVE it!”
Andy Sellins is director of programmes for Cricket for Change, a 30-year-old charity which has worked in the UK with disabled children and those living in deprived conditions.The charity was invited to take its expertise overseas, and in the past two years has run week-long development programmes in 15 countries.
Thanks to the passion of the Israel Cricket Association’s George Sheader — who made aliyah from Scarborough in 1979 — it was now Israel’s turn to experience the Cricket for Change magic. Mr Sellins and a colleague went to Israel before Christmas and returned last week to run a groundbreaking programme aimed at mixing Jewish and Arab children, in Beersheva and surrounding Bedouin villages. “We teach a game called Street20, loosely based on Twenty20 one-day cricket,” he said.
“It means there are just 20 balls bowled by each side and that everyone gets to bat and to bowl. We also only use a tennis ball covered in masking tape and plastic bats and stumps. We say that we can get kids playing anywhere, they don’t have to have a proper pitch, and we encourage the local cricket associations to throw out the rule book. We believe that this game can be picked up in one minute.”
And so it proved in Israel, when the children, aged 10-15, tumbled off the buses to join the Street20 games. Jews and Arabs were soon swinging bats with enthusiasm. George Sheader said: “We went intentionally into poor areas where everyone told us we wouldn’t succeed because there was no tradition of cricket. But the result was the opposite. One of my biggest dreams is to see one of the young Arab players become part of the Israeli team.”
Now, says Mr Sellins, while Mr Sheader and his crew “bed in” the Cricket for Change techniques, the plan is for the charity to return, this time to set up cricket schools in Jerusalem. Andy Sellins hopes that British Jewish cricket enthusiasts will help to buy kit.