COMPTON, Calif. (AP) _ Cricket in Compton? Home of gangsta rap?

Word.

Passionate apostles of that most British of ball games are sharing their love of the gentlemanly sport with inner city kids who don't know a wicket from a wombat.

Cricketeers from farflung corners of England's former colonial empire turned Compton High School into a weekend training camp teaching the game's bowling, batting and complex field defense.

It was a hit with the kids.

``It's like golf and baseball and softball all mixed up,'' said Paulina Mitchell, 13, from Walton Middle School.

Dozens donned knee pads and learned how to swing a bat that looks more like a canoe paddle than a Louisville slugger.

``It's fun,'' said Raul Flores, another Walton pupil. ``I wish they had this like Little League.''

The volunteer cricket instructors tried to convey the spirit of the game, as well as its action, strategy and drama.

``Cricket teaches patience, discipline and courage,'' coach Leo Magnus intoned solemnly, his rich baritone singing with the rhythms of his native Jamaica, which he left nearly 40 years ago.

Moin Ul Atiq, a cricket pro from Pakistan, put it more succinctly. ``Cricket teaches the big heartedness,'' he said.

British actor James Marcel, who plays the snooty butler on ``The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,'' turned up at the clinic, swinging his own bat and complaining he had grown rusty since his London school days.

The significance of the inner city training camp wasn't lost on him.

``The tradition of the game was upper class,'' Marcel said. ``For people whose background was that they were dominated by Great Britain, being good at cricket was a means of obtaining personal dignity.''

Compton has one of California's highest crime rates. In 1994, the most recent figures available from the U.S. Justice Department, there were 81 murders. In San Francisco, a city whose population is seven times larger than Compton's, 91 people were slain.

Street gangs have thrived there, as have home-grown rappers like the group N.W.A., whose albums include ``Straight Outta Compton.''

The cricket clinic idea flowed from homeless organizer Ted Hayes, who formed the L.A. Krickets, the world's only homeless cricket team, with help from an unlikely source, the Beverly Hills Cricket Club.

``They thought I was a pro from the West Indies because of my dreadlocks,'' Hayes cracked, grinning.

After a successful team trip to England, Hayes carried his enthusiasm to the Southern California Cricket Association, a group of 600 or so die-hards from all ends of the planet.

Many volunteered to help get cricket started for young people in Los Angeles' urban core. Compton school officials backed the idea and the group began the first of a series of training camps over the weekend.

``I've always wanted to teach inner city children,'' Magnus said. ``I leaped at the opportunity. To learn cricket is to learn life itself.''