Tuesday April 24th 2018

A glorious few days was not enough to rescue saturated grounds in many parts of the country. Indeed, some schools cancelled the weekend’s fixtures as long ago as last Monday. Even if the grounds had just about dried out sufficiently by Friday, widespread thunderstorms frequently undid all the good work of the sun in a couple of hours. Thus, whereas I’d normally expect a deluge, hoho, of results in the first two or three weeks, the season got off to a rather stuttering start.

Nevertheless, there have been some remarkable performances. St Edward’s always leads the way in playing far more fixtures than most and their captain Harrison Ward has already distinguished himself by scoring two centuries, one of them in a National T20 match, and in another game taking seven for 35 against a touring side from New Zealand, winning on the last ball of the match after declaring. This was a “100-over game” (see below), with the home side declaring a few balls after “half-time” with nine down. The visitors never really got going but their last few batsmen dug in and very nearly saved the game, losing their last wicket on the final ball of the day – a spitting googly by Jamie Curtis and, fittingly, a brilliant catch by Ward at slip.

Jonny Bushnell at Durham started the season where he left off last year, his 157 following 100 in their final match of 2017. At Hampton there were two centurions, Blake Cullen (100) and Joe Wheeler (104 not out).

It was a hard day in the field for Haberdashers’ Aske’s who were taken for 369 for one in 50 overs by Felsted, William Buttleman (168 not out) and Jos Burslem (135) making their maiden centuries in a school record opening stand of 303. Hardly surprisingly, the visitors were unable to get anywhere near matching that.

In a 20-over match NOT part of the National Schools competition, St Benedict’s rattled up a more than healthy score of 157, with fine contributions from Tomek Tsang (51) and Charlie Pyne (48). John Hampden lost two early wickets followed by an excellent partnership of 117 between Will Shepherd (80) and Kieran Devereux (38). With 22 needed from the last two overs and six from the final ball Niall Dearsley targeted the square leg boundary only to be thwarted by a catch high over his head by Tom Knight. A thrilling finale.

If you are reading this, you are probably aware that schools cricket has been airing in the letters page of The Times (Saturday, yesterday and today). As one of the letters was mine, perhaps I could expand on the meagre space allowed in the august columns. This is quite lengthy so if you like to come back to it later I’ll put it under “Useful articles” for the future. It is, of course, my own view not necessarily shared by our committee or anybody else. For the moment I have posted it below the Results section.

Results:

Queen Mary’s GS 139-5 (20 overs),*Lawrence Sheriff School 106-6
*Marlborough 106-3 (20 overs), Dauntsey’s 107-5
Leicester Gents 152, *Ratcliffe 153-9
*St Edward’s Oxford 178-9 dec, Christ’s College (NZ) 125 (H Ward 7-35)
*Queen Elizabeth’s, Barnet 89-6 (20 overs), Haberdashers’ Aske’s 91-2
Oakham 264-6 (50 overs),*Repton 134-8 (35 overs); Oakham won on D/L
Lord Wandsworth 164-5 (30 overs),*Christ’s Hospital 168-2
Brighton 189,*Whitgift 161
Clifton 188-6 (50 overs),*Bromsgrove 125
*Ratcliffe 217-1 (25 overs) (J Nightingale 103 not out), Welbeck 79-6
Rugby 72, St Edward’s Oxford 73-2
*High School of Glasgow 163-5 (20 overs), Kelvinside Academy 62 (J Tyagi 6-5)
Uppingham 108,*Stowe 109-8
*St Benedict’s 157-6 (20 overs), John Hampden GS 152-6
*Latymer 125 (35 overs), Emanuel 126-7
*RGS Worcester 134-8 (35 overs), Sir Thomas Rich’s 136-3
RGS Worcester 192-7 (50 overs), *KES Birmingham 102
Bradfield 189,*RGS High Wycombe 69 (K Khanna 5-12)
*Eltham 250-7 (45 overs)(N Murlowski 104), St Lawrence 251-1 (I Dilkes 150 not out)
XL Club 129-9 (40 overs),*Monkton 101
*Prior Park 206-6 (40 overs), Monkton 106
*KCS Wimbledon 176 (50 overs), Epsom 177-7
King’s Worcester 126-8 (30 overs), *Clifton 129-2
*Felsted 369-1 (50 overs) (W Buttleman 168*, J Bursalem 135), Haberdashers’ Aske’s 124
Christ’s College (NZ) 163-5 (35 overs),*Haberdashers’ Aske’s 140-7
*Manchester GS 222-6 (45 overs) (S Perry 101), Cheadle Hulme 150
Dauntsey’s 243-3 (35 overs),*Clayesmore 105
*Bristol GS 274-7 (50 overs), King’s Worcester 225
Durham 259-5 dec (J Bushnell 157),*RGS Newcastle 189
Worth 199-4 (35 overs),*Sevenoaks 144
Wellington (Berks) 223-9 (55 overs), *Harrow 219-2; Harrow won on D/L.
*Sedbergh 222-5 (50 overs), St Peter’s York 210-9
Reed’s 270-6 (50 overs),*St John’s Leatherhead 174
MCC 287-6 (50 overs),*Bryanston 210-8
Bede’s 188-5 (30 overs),*Tonbridge 181-4
*Hampton 304-4 (B Cullen 100, J Wheeler 104 not out), Oratory 126
*Hampton 188-4, Dulwich 126-7 (C Campbell 5-9)
*Norwich 269-6 (50 overs) (O Binny 114 not out), Gresham’s 50
*Woodhouse Grove 113 (V Sharma 5-17), GSAL (Leeds) 116-7
*Sevenoaks 149-4 (20 overs), New Hall 151-4

National Schools Twenty20 competition
(some matches in some groups still to be played)

East section group 2
*Oakham 133-6 (20 overs), Oundle 121-9 (H Tyler 5-14)
Stamford 137-7 (20 overs), *Oakham 123-8

South East section group 3
*Bede’s 159-5, Brighton College 59
*Bede’s 144-5, Hurstpierpoint 114-9
Hurstpierpoint 144, Aldridge 96
Bede’s win the group

South East section group 4
*Tonbridge 166–4, Skinners 100–9
Eastbourne 102–9, *Tonbridge 103–5
Claremont 131-4 Skinners 98
Tonbridge win the group

North London section group 2
UCS 112, Highgate 92
UCS 65, Merchant Taylors’ 68-0
Moulton withdrew
Merchant Taylors’ win the group

South Central section group 1
St Edward’s 175-6, *Dauntsey’s 140-3
St Edward’s 203-5 (H Ward 101), Elizabeth (Guernsey) 149-7
Elizabeth (Guernsey) 112-8, *Dauntsey’s 116-9
St Edward’s win the group

South Central section group 4
RGS High Wycombe 107-8, Lord Wandsworth 109-2
RGS High Wycombe 109-7, Shiplake 110-0
*Radley 181-6, Shiplake 92
Lord Wandsworth 72, Radley 75-2
Radley win the group

South West section group 1
Downside 98-6,*Clifton 101-2
*Clifton 124-5, Colston’s 42-2 (9 overs); Clifton win on D/L

I retired from running Clifton’s cricket in 2003 and up to that point, around the country, almost all main matches (ie Saturdays and one or two others like MCC) were declaration games. In the West Country several leading schools had agreed for a few years to experiment with what is sometimes known as a 110-over game, and I mean 55 x 2 not 50 though, of course, it could be. That is, it was effectively a declaration game (ie win/lose/draw), but the side batting first had to declare at 55 overs. In retrospect I think we should have made it a maximum of 58 for reasons I shan’t expand on here, but it would certainly avoid the sort of 70 v 45 over split sometimes seen in schoolboy declarations, not wanting to risk losing. And there’s the rub. The delicious part of (one day) declaration cricket is that it is very difficult – on a good wicket – to bowl a good batting side out in roughly 55 overs and it requires a huge amount of tactical nous, skilful captaincy, thoughtful bowling and a fair amount of gambling. The biggest gamble you have to make is to give the side batting second a decent chance of winning. If you declare too late, then you have missed this vital point and are in danger of ensuring a dull draw. But, done well, it ensures that the vast majority of games will have a fairly exciting climax and be a satisfying contest for 22 players and all spectators. Done badly, it will be a dull draw and I do not deny that there can be very dull draws.

There is a serious danger of supposing that all schoolboy (sic*) cricketers want to be professionals. Only a tiny fraction could even harbour such an ambition and only a very small fraction of professionals could harbour thoughts of playing for England. Nevertheless, in ECB circles it sometimes seems as if the only point of county cricket is to nurture England players and in turn that the only point of schools cricket is to nurture county players. This means that county cricket has been relegated to the margins of the English summer rather than being at the heart of it, as it used to be. At the other end, recreational cricket, which sounds almost pejorative, is struggling to find sufficient numbers of young adults who enjoy the game enough to want to continue playing after they leave school.

I disagree with the notion that schools cricket is in the main a starting-point towards professional cricket. I disagree with the idea that schools cricket should necessarily mimic the formats etc of the professional game (for example, lunch between innings at 2.30pm). Professionals are in the entertainment business, as Andrew Strauss said not long ago. Schools are in the business of teaching young boys and girls to enjoy a richly satisfying, intricate and intelligent** game. It takes time, like an acquired taste, and it takes hard work. “In order to relax, you’ve first got to sweat your guts out” (said not by Viv Richards as it might have been, but by Jimmy Porter in “Look Back in Anger”).

To dwell on the professional game for a moment: until the 60s, the county game was at the heart of it. Test cricket was a relatively rarity. But audiences were dwindling (The Church of England faced similar problems***) and the first solution was to introduce the Gillette Cup (60 overs a side, win/lose). In the 70s came the Packer revolution which was what really changed things. There was money to be made, and so all professional cricketers started to be paid a decent salary rather than a pittance. Much later (circa 2003) came “Twenty20” cricket. Now, 20-over cricket has been played for donkey’s years, usually evening matches played by pub teams, factory teams, police teams, you name it, followed by a few pints in the pub and maybe a game of skittles. Twenty20 was a skilful marketing name and the game especially promoted for people who don’t like or understand cricket (spectators, not players). Hence the emphasis on lots of big hitting etc, and that’s where we are at the moment. See also Elizabeth Ammon’s interesting riposte to this dumbing down in today’s Times.

In schools, the aim is quite different. The game is for the participants, not the spectators. Nothing wrong with Twenty20, as we now call it. Excellent for fielding, and running between the wickets. Better still, in this exam-obsessed age, it can be fitted into a late-afternoon slot such as 4pm and lasts about three hours in total. But it isn’t the essential game of cricket; rather a sort of warm-up, just as Squash was invented as a cheap and simple version of Rackets. In effect it is the finale of a full-length game but both sides start with all 10 wickets intact. As boys, we played endless games of tip-and-run. Much the same and good fun.

My issue is with the 50-over format (it is in the professional game too, but let that pass for the moment). Never mind that it really should be 55 anyway (50 just to ape the professional game with all their faffing about – Parkinson’s Law in action). Overs cricket is almost entirely about batsmen. Bowlers are just there as cannon-fodder, since there is no incentive – apparently – to get the batsman out. I say apparently because the biggest mistake made by the overwhelming majority of captains, including Test ones, is to forget that the best way to stop Viv Richards scoring runs is to get him out when he is at his most vulnerable, ie when he first comes in. The very worst thing to do is to spread the field and ease him in, so obviously the best thing to do is to attack – yes, three slips, two gulleys sort of thing with a decent bowler who is fired up by just having taken a wicket. How often do we see this? Absolutely never.

As I suggested earlier, the declaration format forces a reasonable balance between the two sides, even quite unevenly-matched ones. To win, even a much stronger side still has to take 10 wickets to win. However, in an overs match, the perhaps stronger side just bashes on until they have played the opposition out of the game, and then we all sit back for three hours of excruciating boredom or – more importantly and distressingly – crushing humiliation for the weaker side. They have to make a go of it and, being by definition inexperienced, probably make fools of themselves. All very nice for 11 players but enough – if repeated, as it will be because they lose confidence – to make the other 11 give up and go and play Frisbee.

In schools cricket, we really want 22 players to have an enjoyable game, to begin to understand its intricacies and in later life, even if they don’t continue playing, at least be enthusiastic and knowledgeable spectators at Test matches. The regrettable and boorish attitude of “win at all costs” (including cheating with varying degrees of culpability from excessive appealing through to “making more noise” ie intimidation, ball-tampering and sledging) in itself has made much club cricket very unappealing for the young (not to mention umpires). It was not always so by any means, and the blame can largely be put at the door of the ubiquitous limited-overs game just as obesity can largely be put down to the ubiquity of processed foods.

As an increasingly grumpy old man, I frequently find myself muttering that “Improvement” = deterioration. In the commercial world this is because businesses (including professional cricket) exist to make money and will often trumpet what is actually a worse product as an improvement. It does not have to be so in the amateur cricket world, though quite how we reverse it even after only 15 years is something I’d find very difficult to find an answer for. Once you have been raised on deliberately enticing processed food it is very difficult to wean young people onto more enriching real food.

It was always my view as a Master i/c that boys (and now girls) should learn to play both types of cricket: declaration cricket and overs cricket of varying lengths as fitted the time available. Nowadays, except for a very few schools, the former – far superior but more demanding and hence ultimately satisfying for both sides – has been squeezed out in favour of the almost universal limited-overs format. And just look at the results each week as I do. Once a side passes 300 the contest is over. Yes, there are very rare exceptions: Solihull v Nottingham HS (408-5 v 402), Malvern scoring 300+ at Millfield and losing; maybe one should add last year’s St George’s 531-8 with reply by Reading Blue Coat of 310. In fact, each week contains large numbers of results where the side batting first makes a very large score and the second side gets nowhere near. Fine for macho posturing and the strong team’s ego (and marketing department) but not much else.

* I talk about boys’ cricket only. Because the spectacular growth and success of girls’ cricket are very recent indeed, the figures and set-up are as yet very different.

** If you have read this far, you may possibly be interested in a pamphlet I wrote 40 years ago called Cricket is played in the mind – or ought to be

*** To see my observations on their disastrous solution, read my piece The Lord Be With You – and the same to you mate

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