New regulations on wearing helmets have sparked fears for the future of junior cricket in Sussex.

The England and Wales Cricket Board have ruled that all batsmen and wicketkeepers aged under-18 must wear helmets against a hard ball unless parents sign a disclaimer.

But Peter Dickson, a junior club coach and a former teacher, is worried about the implications. He is chairman of the Sussex Junior Festival which will feature 152 teams involving over 1,600 children this summer.

He said: "I know the ECB have safety at heart and there is flexibility with the parental consent clause. But the helmet rule puts the frighteners on parents by suggesting cricket is a dangerous game. There isn't a great take up of children playing the hard ball anyway at county level and at club level it's even worse."

Dickson, who helps out at the Keymer and Hassocks club, is also concerned about the costs. He said: "Where's the money coming from to pay for all the helmets? Schools can't afford one for everybody. Children could share but there are the hygiene aspects to consider.

"Helmets must also fit, at the moment they are small, medium and large. If a helmet does not fit properly, a child's head will rotate inside it. Some children find helmets uncomfortable. If players keep wicket as well they could be wearing one for a long time during a match. I don't recall any consultation with the ECB on the practicalities of the new rule."

Keith Turk, head of PE at Sackville School, East Grinstead, says the ECB are overreacting.

Turk, who coaches Sussex under-15s, said: "It's a sledgehammer to crush a hazelnut. Pretty soon we could have tennis ball cricket. There are very few occasions when helmets are needed in our schools. We don't put in average batters with high quality bowlers. It's common sense.

"There are 800 kids at my school. Times that by £30-40 and that's how much it would cost the school to supply enough helmets. Schools can't afford it. Also there's the transfer of sweat and head diseases like lice and nits if helmets are shared. You get that even in the cleanest of societies."

Keith, whose 16-year-old twins Paul and Neil play for Sussex and attend Sackville, added:"There was a story about a boy being hit in the heart by a ball. Do we introduce chest protectors? You break a leg playing football. It's chance and people who play accept that because they love their sport."

Sussex began to enforce the rule during half-term this week in coaching sessions at Hove. Development manager Ian Waring said: "Safety is paramount and we've got to respect the rule. We're doing it this week even if it means cancelling sessions. We've got around 250 in our boys and girls county junior sides but that's not our worry.

"They are serious cricketers with the right equipment. But the new rule makes it harder to promote the sport for those thinking about taking it up. We can't possibly supply a helmets for everyone and if parents see that it's going to cost £40, it will put many off. It scares parents because they might think the sport is dangerous. But in all my years in the game there have been very few examples of a serious injury caused by being hit on the head by the ball."

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