Tuesday April 13th 2021

Starting slightly earlier than usual because Wisden is published on Thursday April 15th. As you will realise there cannot possibly be anything like the normal schools cricket section covering the non-season of 2020, and so there is a very unusual special schools section instead. It is so massive in its extent that Wisden itself is publishing only the main part of it. We are privileged to offer a supplement which includes a vast amount of data which Wisden could not possibly find space for.

Intrigued? I hope so because you really need to read the Wisden piece before you read the supplement which we shall be publishing on the same day.

Here are the details for ordering Wisden 2021 at a substantial discount:

For schools (including members of staff, pupils and parents) who wish to order the new edition of Wisden annually, the best price available is the less-than-half-price (£25) offer if you take out a subscription. To subscribe, please visit: www.wisdenalmanack.com/subscribe.  

For those who prefer not to subscribe, the 2021 edition (hardback or soft cover) can be ordered for £35 (post free) from www.wisdenalmanack.com/2021. The large format edition and Shorter Wisden ebook can also be ordered via this link.  

The hardback or soft cover edition can also be ordered for the discounted price of £35 (post free) by phoning 01256 302692 (choose option 1 followed by option 1 again) and quoting the discount code “GLR UK7”. The large format edition can also be ordered for £55 (post free) by quoting “GLR UK7”.  

The 2021 season in theory could possibly be the best for years, indeed decades, as it promises a full term with no public exams, no revision mania, no reading weeks, no post-exam exeats and all the rest of the nonsense which has plagued schools and ruined the schools cricket season.

Unfortunately, a new spanner in the works has arrived in the form of Teacher Assessed Grades. It threatens to be even worse, mainly because it all has to be done by half-term. After that, as all teachers know, it is the devil’s own job to motivate pupils to study anything seriously and the last thing housemasters want is 18-year-olds hanging about with not a great deal to keep them out of mischief. Schools will try their best to lay on something meaningful, if only to justify the fees, but pupils (and parents) could vote with their feet. Even if schools do have a full complement, there is, for independent schools, only a further three weeks of term anyway.

How these will work when teachers have actually taught their pupils face to face for about three weeks in the Spring Term, by which time they may have just about learned their names, is beyond the scope of these reflections.

The problem is that many schools are very fearful of any outbreak of the dreaded Covid which might disrupt the already virtually impossible task of assessing grades for children you hardly know. They have therefore cancelled all school fixtures until half-term. I know of at least one school where they have cancelled all fixtures until September.

HMC has not issued any overall recommendation but has left it to individual regional groups of Heads to decide what to do. At least two regions have thus decided to play no fixtures until half-term, though a few have formed bubbles of three or four schools to play only each other. That leaves other schools with no opponents and hence a lot of blank Saturdays.

One Head feels it is quite possible that senior boys will now play for clubs on Saturdays and may acquire a taste for the relative freedom, not least in the bar afterwards. That could spell problems for the future of schools cricket. On the other hand, why would a good cricketer choose to bat for a few overs at No 6 in a club side when he could be opening for his school?

In short, a huge numbers of schools have had their matches cancelled by the opposition, sometimes very early in March. At the moment (it could change, admittedly), the data shows serious illness and deaths from the wretched disease plummeting towards zero, but matches have long since been cancelled. One of the services I offer is to circulate requests for fixtures and I have been startled by the huge number of schools making such requests “because our opposition has just cancelled all matches” (also early March).

As one exasperated Master i/c put it, having had matches cancelled (in early March!) by oppositions:

“I understand the stance some schools have taken but I also find it utterly bemusing. Our children are being tested (for Covid) and are crying out for activity and sport. Cricket is as socially distanced a game as you can get but schools are deciding not to play. While I respect decisions made I am baffled by it to be honest.

I know I am lucky in having a positive and encouraging SLT but what would the lads do on a Saturday in April and May do if they were not playing cricket for school? They would go and play for their club (or worse still not play at all) for which we have no control over at all and therefore share team space etc with adults who may have been in the city all week working and travelling! I know I am not alone but it is frustrating getting emails on a daily basis at the moment from schools cancelling fixtures.

I’d also add that we very successfully played fixtures in September and even into October last year. With the 1st XI they followed the guidelines and were socially distanced on the pitch and kept in their year groups off it too. Maybe I am being short sighted but if kids are being tested then surely they can play under these guidelines?

And, to follow up:

“I probably need to be careful as I know I have great support here but how can we read it one way and others school completely the opposite? I am very lucky that our SLT are so positive and forward thinking but the key element here is that we all teach and coach because we want what is best for our children. Surely when the risks are so low with Covid tests and numbers and risk in general they should be allowed to play! I also think we are crying out for clearer guidance at the moment from ECB* (if they are able to give it) as the term dates and time to organise do not work in our favour at all! On 29th March they could say yes to play but we are all on Easter holidays so can’t re-organise everything! Better surely to have everything in place and then cancel like we keep doing!!”

[*In fact, shortly after this, ECB did issue a recommendation for school matches to go ahead immediately following publication of government guidelines in mid-March urging the same].

To which I’d add only that he was writing in early March as numbers of cases, hospitalisations and deaths were plummeting. Fair enough if there were a sudden rise in such things in the middle of April, but once you have cancelled all fixtures in early March, it is very difficult to re-instate them in late April.

You may read my meditations about the virus here

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