Killing schools cricket

This is a paper summarising the problems and giving links to recent evidence from extensive research and other evidence. My key points are shown as 1), 2) and 3). Other paragraphs are verbatim from my weekly commentaries on Schools Cricket Online. They contain several links to other papers etc which you can access by clicking on the link.

  1. Revision mania, leading to frequent cancellation of fixtures often at short notice. I know this because Masters i/c regularly (twice a week?) ask me to circulate schools with a request to fill the gap. It also has made all-day cricket an endangered species. Many if not most schools now play only 35 or even 30 or 20 overs inter-school matches. Further, it leads to the demand for “post-exam-stress” weeks off. This is probably an excuse for a piss-up and it gets pupils with nothing much to do off schools’ hands. I urged all Masters i/c to badger their Heads to send a letter (as some do) to all parents, pupils and staff saying that pupils should not abandon all other activity during the exam term. See two important pieces of research below.

The thing which is killing cricket in schools is the remorseless pressure of exams. Actually not so much the exams themselves – Maths A level does not clash with a Saturday fixture – as the fairly recent mania of going into purdah for weeks before the exams actually start in order to do nothing but “revise”.

Doing nothing but revise is very bad practice and is actually counter-productive. To take just one paragraph from my pamphlet, based on the eminent authority Professor C. A. Mace in “The Psychology of Study”:

“Our brains cannot cope with doing nothing but revise. It is actually counter-productive because they sort of go on strike, which may be called brain-fatigue. To quote Mace: “In normal work there should be regular steady spells of activity at a reasonable level of effort separated by equally regular spells of rest and recreation. A rough general rule for the avoidance of undue fatigue may be stated in the following terms. Some form of relaxation should be taken for a few consecutive minutes in every hour; work should cease for two or three consecutive hours in every day; one complete day of rest and recreation should be reserved in every week.”

Perhaps I should add that rest and recreation preferably means a bit of fresh air and exercise, not twiddling buttons on a screen. To read the whole pamphlet (15 pages) on how to revise effectively, please read The Psychology of Revision.

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“Mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body). Juvenal’s finale to a very long satire (not in the modern sense) is usually misunderstood. It was the answer to the question he started by posing: if the gods could grant just one wish, what should you wish for? After a long list of bad ideas (wealth, power etc etc), this was his answer. It has always been taken to mean that if you have a healthy body it will lead to a healthy mind.

Never mind Juvenal, the misinterpretation is probably right, and very recent research which you can read a report of in The Daily Telegraph. supports this; see also Cambridge University sport and academic performance study summary. Not to mention mental health problems among the young who are nowadays denied competitive – or maybe any – sporting activity in the vast majority of state schools and, alas, in many independent schools in the summer (cricket???) term. Big mistake. You can see a report on this research by The Daily Telegraph. I have written, by invitation, an article on this topic at much greater length in the May edition of The Cricketer magazine.

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In short, cricket in schools is in crisis. Not just state schools; ALL schools. The culprit is the public exam system. Mr Corbyn, with a penchant for nationalisation, might be well advised to include this in his portfolio. At the moment it is answerable to nobody and it is certainly killing cricket in schools. Despite the fact that Universities are almost sending taxis for candidates who want to pay for the privilege of attending their institution (widespread unconditional offers), revision mania has swept the country in recent years, taking schools cricket with it like a tsunami.

In addition there is the widespread Magaluf syndrome (it used to be Rock in Cornwall). Under the guise of being stressed out by the pressure of exams, 18-year-old boys in particular claim the desperate need to have an officially sanctioned piss-up during term-time. As a former Housemaster, I am aware that schools do not want boys with nothing much to do hanging around with time on their hands. That is another consequence of the ever-earlier exams. You’ll need to read my article in The Cricketer magazine for the next instalment of this thriller. It will in due course be published here with permission from the publishers, like the entire archive of Wisden schools sections.

One final point: there is an old adage “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it”. It seems paradoxical but life is like that. In cricket terms, busy folk like cricketers are likely to be better at revising than people who do nothing else. See also last week’s column with a large number of useful links on this and other topics.

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Returning yet again to the depressing modern phenomenon of revision mania, largely driven by ill-informed parents, at least one keen cricketing school has seen its first two 2nd XI fixtures cancelled by the opposition. Frankly, I refuse to believe that teenagers will spend all Saturday afternoon and evening revising. Except in the few very large schools, the 2nd XI is usually an Under-16 side in their GCSE year and are keen cricketers who are then likely to be the 1st XI in their final two years. How frustrating to be denied competitive cricket on the first two Saturdays of term, which is already ludicrously short.

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There are alarming instances nowadays of schools not being able to raise even a 1st XI, let alone 2nds or 3rds, owing to revision mania. If you did not see my Thunderer May 2019 piece in The Times last Thursday (on this topic), follow the link. All work and no play is not the way to revise for exams. There was an interesting response, one of which you can see here.

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Regular readers and all Masters i/c will know that I have been campaigning to save our national (or should that be notional?) summer term sport from the depredations of the exam system – revision mania really – which nowadays commands excessive devotion, especially among parents. It was chilling to read recently of the extraordinary pressures exerted by parents at the very high-powered St Paul’s Girls’ School in London.

Some will know that I was invited to write an article about the pressures on schools cricket, and especially state schools, by The Cricketer Magazine for their May edition. As it is now June, I am allowed by their kind permission to reproduce my article here: Cricket is in crisis in all schools.

Many will also know of Alan Wells, formerly of Sussex and England, but now Master i/c at Bede’s in Sussex. He was yesterday moved to email me about his thoughts on the current state of the game in schools and his fairly radical solution for his own school. He is happy for me to share it online and maybe start something of a debate. Send any thoughts to me via email, as I don’t have online comments to satisfy trolls. You can read his reflections here.

  1. A relentless diet of overs games (since about 2004) has more or killed the declaration game for future generations. They won’t have a clue what is going on in Test matches, let alone County games. This has largely been created by seeing only overs matches on TV; indeed the complete absence of professional cricket on free-to-air TV. As I look at the results week by week, it is striking how many really tedious games result from the side batting first batting the other side out of the game and making the second innings pointless and embarrassing for the second side. My paper on this is here;

Has 50-over cricket gone too far?

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As regular readers know, this is the sort of school game which I hate: lovely for the dominant side and their marketing department but just embarrassing for the losers (in this case a very distinguished cricketing school). All they can do is gallantly chase the impossible target and make themselves look foolish. Worse than that, if that sort of thing continues with an inexperienced side, it drives possibly promising young players from the game who next year may choose swimming or frisbee.

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I am much inclined to agree with my son, a good cricketer and astute observer (also Kevin Pietersen a few years ago). Thus, have a proper declaration game or a 20-over one. The 50-over format has had its day and was always intended just to liven up a game if captains made poor declarations. I read the other day that Ted Dexter, as Sussex captain, was the first to realise (successfully) that overs cricket was essentially a defensive game. Bowlers shouldn’t bother to take wickets; their business was to restrict scoring. Field-settings (and off-spinners firing the ball to leg-stump with a packed legside field) showed it until the authorities cleverly introduced PowerPlays so that you couldn’t just plonk six players on the boundary for much of the innings and bowl five medium-pacers-back-of-a length (which meant endless and extremely tedious pushing of singles for overs 15-40). It was amazingly only fairly recently, maybe with the introduction of “Twenty20”, that captains came to realise that if you want to slow the scoring rate then it’s (good) spinners who will do it. They may even have realised that getting a good player out early is the best way to stop him (or her) scoring.

  1. A noticeable decrease in attention span among the young, allied to ever-more obsession with each other and the need for endless “socialising”. It seems that many young people increasingly find cricket “boring” because it takes too long. There is a demand to end Saturday matches early to allow time for “socialising”. Even Millfield reported at a recent meeting that they were under pressure to finish all matches by 6pm, and not really for revision either!
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