John Wilson is Head of Modern Languages at Cheadle Hulme School, but through his passion for cricket was one of the first people to welcome Cricket Beyond Boundaries Young Cricketers into the country.
Here, he tells us how the link-up began, how his colleagues and pupils work with youngsters and the how the programme benefits for everyone who is involved.
Back in 2011, I’d just been to Trent Bridge to watch India against England, where India were very disappointing and Dr Samir Pathak was pretty down about it. We started talking and coming up with grand ideas about what we might do.
Ultimately we summarised that the Indian players just weren’t prepared for English conditions and what that turned into was an idea to give some Indian cricketers with potential that opportunity to come over here at a young age and experience the conditions.
We thought we could get that off the ground the following year by hosting some boys at Cheadle Hulme School, which is an independent day school. We got two boys over, got some host families together and from there it’s been a bit of a springboard.
I had the full support of my colleagues at Cheadle Hulme School and in 2012, the first young cricketer, Prithvi Shaw, arrived, followed by Khizar Dafedar in 2013, Harshvardhan Patel in 2014 and Hashir Dafedar in 2015. The boys have come mainly from Dilip Vengsarkar’s academies in Mumbai and Pune.
Our school has a connection with cricket in that our headteacher is Lucy Pearson, the ex-England fast bowler, so she was very much for the programme and very supportive, and so Cheadle Hulme became the first school to join the programme, following which the programme has expanded greatly.
Steve Burnage, our first-team coach, has also been massively important to the programme’s success with us, both raising funds for and supporting the boys when they are over there.
We got two boys over and the most prominent at that stage was Prithvi Shaw, who has since been breaking various records and shows a lot of promise for the future.
In November 2013, he scored a world record 546 not out in a Harris Shield Elite Division match, the highest score in organised cricket since 1901. This staggering achievement came a little more than a year after his first stint at Cheadle Hulme.
Everyone at Cheadle Hulme could see that the programme was working better than expected. The Indian boys were benefiting from the cricket and they were also benefiting from the cultural element.
What was unexpected was the benefit this all had for our own students at the school; for them to be interacting with and having someone on their team who is in an alien culture, who is there to improve their cricket as well, helped them improve their game.
It also helped them improve their perspective on life given that the majority of our boys are from relatively privileged backgrounds.
When the boys come over, they become a member of Cheadle Hulme School. They wear the uniform, they attend lessons and it’s not all about cricket. As well as playing cricket, they are expected to contribute to coaching so it’s not just about playing the game.
It’s been a programme that has really benefited us. The link-up happened at a good time for us and it’s been a real boost for our school.
It’s really heartening to know that thanks to our initial support, Cricket Beyond Boundaries now work with Indian youngsters from less privileged backgrounds and are bringing orphan cricketers over to the UK.
Understandably, it can be hard for the young cricketers at first, particularly as they are a long way from home and in a totally different environment, but they are always given the support they need – and it pays dividends.
Pastoral care is initially really important because these are young lads missing home. They may not have ever been outside of India or even the Mumbai area – some of them may travel a bit to play cricket but ultimately it’s a massive challenge for them and that’s been one of the learning curves.
Cricket Beyond Boundaries young cricketers at Cheadle Hulme School
2012: Prithvi Shaw (via Nilesh Kulkarni and his firm AAP who were then managing him)
2013: Khizar Dafedar (Dilip Vengsarkar’s Academy)
2014: Harshvardhan Patil (Dilip Vengsarkar’s Academy, Pune)
2015: Hashir Dafedar (Dilip Vengsarkar’s Academy)
After all, if they are going to make it in the cricketing world they will be spending time away from home.
Take Prithvi as an example. He came back for two consecutive years after he was here, going on to play club cricket in the Yorkshire Leagues with Cleethorpes.
When I remember him coming over here as a 13-year-old boy, he spent most of his time in my office in the first week because he was missing home so much.
Our initial idea was, because we have lots of Indian families in our school, to host the Indian boys with Indian families but we’ve learnt that that’s not the best route to go down.
We now host them with English families so what they are experiencing here is very different because they are out of their comfort zone.
What’s been important is that we have our host families but we also have a network of families who provide support beyond that so it might be that while we don’t ask an Indian family to host, we might ask them to host a boy for the weekend or for a family meal.
Others might help by, for example, taking a boy to London for the weekend, so we can create an itinerary for them over the summer term so their experience of the UK is as full as it can be. It might be that a family is going to see a Twenty20 at Lancashire on a Friday night so they’ll take the Indian boy.
Lots of families, not just the host families, have benefited from time with our Indian boys.
Fielding senior school cricket teams is increasingly challenging as students are putting more emphasis on the importance of exams.
This was a real boost for our school and enabled us to field teams as a senior squad because our boys wanted to play alongside the Indian boys so that was a real benefit.
It meant the first-team coach wasn’t scrabbling around for players – everyone wanted to play. Helping them think not just about their own game but coach other youngsters has been brilliant. It’s been a real confidence boost for some of our boys.
Initially, visiting schools had a problem with it, thinking that we had just drafted in Indian lads to improve our results but I think everyone involved in the matches has raised their game, trying hard to get our Indian boys out and perform well, so it’s been a general boost for region as well.
As it turned out, 2011 was just a bit of a blip for India. We might not be able to make an impact on the international game, but if we can help one or two lads realise that there are conditions beyond the subcontinent which they need to adapt to in order to be a success…then we’ve done our bit.
The coaching setup in India is fantastic so realistically we are not going to add too much to that – we may add a little bit – but it’s their own personal development which I think is where we play the biggest role.
© Cricket World 2016