THOUGH foreign stars such as Shane Warne, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke have been the big names at Hampshire recently, the county's long-term future lies in producing their own talent.

That is the passionately-held opinion of Southampton barrister Peter Towler, who as chairman of the 2004 Howzat Appeal fund, is aiming to oversee a £250,000 injection into the county's youth cricket coffers.

The Howzat Appeal is replacing the traditional player benefit at The Rose Bowl in 2004.

The Appeal was launched with a dinner in March and earlier this week Sir Geoff Hurst and ex-Hampshire captain Mark Nicholas were the chief guests at a dinner at St Mary's.

Towler admits the Appeal is crucial to the future of cricket in Hampshire.

"I was sitting next to the chairman of the Surrey youth cricket trust a while back and he said they had £500,000 in their fund," he recalled.

"Hampshire only had about £30,000 in theirs - we were very much the poor relations, and I thought it was about time we did something about that.

The Howzat Appeal cannot donate funds direct to Hampshire Cricket to plough into their youth development.

Under the rules and regulations of the charities commission, money cannot be used for "elite" purposes - hence Howzat's monies will go towards developing cricket in primary and secondary schools.

"The amount of money being given towards developing cricket has fallen by around 24 per cent in the last few years," said Towler.

"The funding from central government for schools to develop sport has declined rapidly.

"The ECB have their own charitable arm, the Cricket Foundation, and they distribute money to the county cricket boards. But the amount going down to schools and youth cricket is a pretty small proportion.

"We are therefore hoping to plug the funding gap that is opening up centrally.

"It really is the future of cricket we are trying to help.

"There's around 440 primary schools in Hampshire and around 70 secondary schools - state ones, that is. We believe hardly any primary schools play cricket and only about 20 of the secondary schools."

Towler continued: "Cricket has suffered in recent years in that soccer and rugby have both enjoyed massive exposure - and you only need a ball and a few players to play a game anywhere.

"Both those sports are also played virtually all year round now. When I was at school it was football in the winter and cricket in the summer.

"We have to promote the message that cricket can be fun as well - it's not a tedious game where you have five days of boredom.

"The Twenty20 Cup last year helped get that message across.

"This whole scheme is not just aimed at producing players, hopefully it will help youngsters to attend matches or get involved as umpires.

"Cricket is a great game - it recognises individual achievements within a team environment.

"And it can help improve social skills as well.

"A couple of years ago we were asked to go to Mount Pleasant School in Bevois Valley to promote cricket.

"As a result, we were told some of the kids got in less trouble with the police - cricket has social benefits."

Last year Wasim Akram officially opened the Southampton Community Cricket club at Hoglands Park - the first 'proper' cricket club actually based in the city boundaries.

Coaching sessions have also been held at Green Park in Millbrook and Towler enthused: "Hundreds of kids have had the chance to play cricket were before there were no opportunities at all

"In many schools, smaller playing fields, fuller timetables, more exams and the pressure of league tables have led to far fewer opportunities to play cricket either in games periods or inter-school matches," Towler continued.

"Some schools have stopped playing cricket altogether for these or other reasons.

"We cannot change the educational system, but we can provide opportunities for children to play cricket by sending qualified coaches to schools.

"If we do not act, an entire generation will have little or no chance to play cricket - except on computer screens - with serious long term consequences for the game in Hampshire."

Though first class counties can now field two overseas players in games, Towler believes the future lies in talent born within the county boundaries.

"There's not enough money in the game for counties to afford to pay expensive transfer fees for players. That means the core of a county squad should be players that have come through the youth system.

"It's good that in the current Hampshire set-up we have the likes of Derek Kenway, Shaun Udal, Lawrie Prittipaul and Chris Tremlett - then we have the likes of Tom Burows and Kevin Latouf coming through as well.

"From our point of view, we want the Howzat appeal to give more and more youngsters the chance to one day play for Hampshire by introducing them to cricket.

"By going into schools we'll be introducing cricket to the kids. We can then put kids in touch with a local club who has its own youth section.

"There's around 80,000 youngsters in Hampshire in the 9-13 age bracket, but only 2,000 or so have any contact with cricket clubs."

The Howzat Appeal are holding a golf day at South Winchester GC on June 7. Price is £300 for a team of four, or a team of three which will be allocated a Hampshire cricketer on a first come first served basis.

There are team prizes available and the top two teams progress to a tournament taking place on the Brabazon course at the PCA Regus Belfry Challenge.

From there, the winning team will have the chance to travel abroad to play golf at a venue to be decided.

For further details on the golf day or the Howzat Appeal, contact 023 8047 1176 or visit