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Cricket Peru’s all-rounder builds for the future

Cricket Peru’s all-rounder builds for the future
Cricket Peru’s all-rounder builds for the future

Samantha Hickman used the lockdown to innovate, engage the community and set up sustainable structures for cricket in Peru.

Samantha Hickman, head of national development at Cricket Peru, was teaching an online class on the elements of cricket to a group of teens and pre-teens when a bit of cardboard in one of the Zoom windows caught her eye.

Fabrizio, a young cricket enthusiast in Lima, had fashioned a ‘bat’ for himself from cardboard. He was using it to practise the skills and exercises taught in the weekly virtual cricket lessons.

This got Hickman thinking.

When the pandemic forced cricket to go online in Peru, Hickman had been concerned for the young participants in their development programmes who didn’t have their own cricket equipment. They were only just getting familiar with the basics. And they didn’t always have a sibling to help them practise. So, all the cricket videos and classes she developed during lockdown in 2020 were based around using things from around the house: broom handles, trays, a stuffed sock tied to a string that was tied to a hat …

Seeing Fabrizio’s innovation gave her another idea to keep the kids engaged: a ‘make your own bat’ contest.

The entries were more than Hickman had hoped for: paper and cardboard and plastic and wooden ‘bats’. Judges were enlisted from ICC Americas, and prizes distributed.

The competition, as well as the video classes, were among the many Cricket Peru initiatives spearheaded by Hickman during the lockdown.

When the pandemic struck, keen that momentum gained over the summer wasn’t lost, she enlisted the senior men’s team to help her make cricket skills videos and held classes for kids from ages 4 to around 19. There were also teacher training and scoring courses for older people. She started weekly physical and skills challenges with the Vicuñas, the women’s national team, and held monthly check-ins on general well-being and to ensure the team spirit was kept alive.

Convinced that Spanish-speaking countries needed more relatable resources, she conducted weekly interviews with relatable cricket personalities, including Australia’s Cathryn Fitzpartick and Mel Jones, and subtitled them in Spanish. Along with the Vicuñas, she researched and put out a Spanish video on the history of women’s cricket.

These inventive and accessible ways of keeping participants in touch with the game and building for the future of cricket in Peru have seen Hickman recognised with a ‘notable achievement’ mention as part of the ICC Development Awards.

Hickman is a bit of an all-rounder. Originally from Australia, she played at South Croydon Cricket Club and later at Ringwood Cricket Club in Victoria. An Under-12 girls team her father helped set up even competed in the boys competition. A desire to get better at Spanish, a language she studied in university, led her to reach out to Cricket Peru and come teach in the country as a 21-year-old.

That was supposed to be for six months. Almost six years later, she’s still in Peru, more passionate than ever about using cricket for social development and building a community.

“I realised pretty soon that for the programme to be sustainable, I’d have to stay on,” Hickman says. “Coming from a first world country, we’re quite privileged in many ways, we don’t realise that. People just dip in and out of places, do a bit of [volunteer] work, but then there’s not a lot of continuity. And that’s an issue with a lot of programmes in a lot of sports.”

As cricket development officer, she’s keen to put those systems in place to ensure that continuity in personnel and vision.

The pandemic hasn’t made things easy. Zoom fatigue sets in. Participants drop out. And Hickman had the anxiety of dealing with her own chronic illness. She hasn’t seen her family for 3.5 years. But she’s pushing forward, picking up new skills in education, programme building and content creation.

A year and a half into the pandemic, Hickman has shifted base to Cusco, in south-east Peru, to develop provincial cricket programmes there. She’s gone into jungles and met local communities, even as she mulls what local employment opportunities Cricket Peru can generate. Back in Lima, her assistant Rafael Bastidas is holding fort,

“At the start, the Zoom sessions and other social media events were like a stop-gap measure, but the success has led to plans to incorporate some of the activities in the cricket Peru development programme going forward,” says Harry Hildebrand, Cricket Peru president. “It certainly fits our vision of exposure to the sport and involvement of young people.”

Young Fabrizio, the inspiration for the bat-making competition, went on to make two more bats. One of those he painted with the colours of Peru. The other had the Australian flag – raising a bat to Hickman’s heritage.

It’s why she remains passionate about what she does. “When you have people willing to step up and make an effort and wanting to learn, that’s why you do it. Hearing these young kids having so much confidence and conviction in telling me what a pull shot is, or explaining to me what the spirit of cricket means to them, that makes me think that we’re doing something right.”

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