Wisden review for the 2005 season

SCHOOLS? CRICKET 2005

REVIEW BY DOUGLAS HENDERSON

(Note: this was substantially altered by the Editor in the printed version)

In a summer dominated by the pulsating Ashes series, it is odd that declaration cricket is in decline in schools. It is much more delicate and demanding than overs cricket; chess rather than draughts. Decisions have to be made, by captain, bowler, and batsman, at every stage of the game. By comparison, overs cricket is dead once the side batting first has accumulated a formidable score; certainly in schools? cricket, where most players are inexperienced in chasing really difficult targets under pressure.

By far the most exciting aspect of England?s cricket was its spectacular captaincy, which ? for England ? means a small team of analysts. Their analysis was put into practice by Michael Vaughan. Each Australian batsman was set a quite different field, but of course this varied depending on the state of the game. Australia were simply out-thought.

How different is this from the appallingly dreary rent-a-field which is alas the norm in most cricket (especially overs games)? For every one inspirational captain in county, club or school cricket, there are 99 dull ones. It would be good to see school captains attempt to emulate England?s dynamic captaincy by setting different fields for each batsman in each different situation, regardless of what type of game is being played. Cricket is played in the mind ? or ought to be.

Lastly, the recent fashion for ?making noise? is deplorable and should be vigorously suppressed. You would think this was something which some school sides did ? like sledging – despite all attempts by their coaches to quell it. In one school game I watched last year, the coach of the (obviously) losing side was shouting ?come on, boys, make more noise?. It?s surely counter-productive: any half-decent batsman will be all the more determined, and not put off by this silly, boring, nonsense. Any half-decent bowler needs no such stupid encouragement.

The tables in this section would not pass serious examination by an independent analyst. The good news is that cricket, despite the ever-increasing ghastliness of the examination timetable, has re-asserted itself in the form of a much expanded Twenty/20 competition among Independent schools (won again by Felsted). The bad news ? for those of statistical bent ? is that you can?t quite believe everything you read. There is no suggestion that anybody has deliberately falsified figures.

Clearly, if a school plays 100% overs games and is a strong side, its winning proportion is likely to be very high. A similarly strong team playing 100% declaration games is bound to have a proportion of draws (maybe because of rain). As far as we are aware, Duckworth/ Lewis has not yet permeated schools cricket; it would be interesting to know whether anybody has come up with an equivalent. Have rained-off overs games been registered as draws, as declaration games are?

Worse, it has not been clear to some schools which matches should be included in the figures. On asking how one school managed to play 29 matches in the season, it turned out that they had included their holiday-time foreign tour. It seems perfectly clear that the figures to be included means the normal domestic term-time season of full-length (all-day or afternoon) matches, which may be overs matches or declaration games. They should certainly not include pre- or post-season matches, nor any knockout competitions (whether national or local).

Finally, of course, there is a considerable difference of strength on different circuits.

The outstanding side in 2005 was Taunton School. I watched them defeat a strong Clifton team, and they were a formidable all-round outfit, winning twelve of their thirteen games, the other being drawn. It helped, perhaps, that they played almost entirely overs matches. Millfield is almost invariably strong, but Richard Ellison this year experimented with putting out two1st XIs, the first playing County Academies, plus Tonbridge and Eton, the other playing the West Country schools circuit. Harrow was also one of only six schools who were unbeaten.

Simon Langton Grammar School chased in every game and won almost all of them, drawing only because of rain and against the Old Boys. Felsted enjoyed another remarkable unbeaten season and won the National Twenty/20 competition again, in the second year of its existence. Manchester Grammar School was the only unbeaten school not to reach the list of the most successful schools, mainly because of rain affecting several games and resulting in draws. Repton?s record, strong anyway, would have been in fourth place without the intervention of rain in several fixtures. In Scotland, Merchiston Castle was once again extremely strong, with their XI rivalling their remarkable 2003 team..

Other schools who performed very creditably in the new National Twenty/20 competition were Hampton, who lost by 10 runs in the final, Stowe (who enjoyed their most successful season ever), Trent College, Dauntsey?s + 3 ?????? (to come)..

Sevenoaks under Old Boy Chris Tavar? also had an extremely good season, with nine wins nearly equalling their best achievement since records were kept. Sherborne did well, recording notable wins against Millfield, Marlborough, the MCC and King?s Taunton. Winchester had a golden period in their best-ever season, winning eight successive games. Wrekin won 11 of their 16 matches, which constitutes their best season for a long time, and their captain, Asif Sultan, was one of the leading all-rounders of the year; he has already appeared for Gloucestershire CCC?s 2nd XI. Woodhouse Grove, coached by Graham Roope, remained unbeaten for ten games before losing to the MCC and only once in the season to schoolboy opposition. Liverpool College had a remarkable 14 wins in 18 games, which makes it the most successful season in the College?s history.

Other schools to record a fine season were The King?s School, Canterbury with 10 wins out of 16 matches played, The Judd School, Tonbridge (10 wins out of 18), Haberdashers? Aske?s (15 wins from 22), and Durham, for whom Paul Muchall performed well with both bat and ball. Christ?s College, Finchley boasted twins Darshand and Chetan Depala who played six consecutive seasons in the 1st XI and helped them to achieve 7 wins out of 11 matches played. The Perse School limbered up for the Sir Garfield Sobers tournament in Barbados by winning 11 matches out of 14.

A striking feature of the season was the number of extremely young players who dominated the Schools? cricket scene. Robert Newton, of Framlingham College, was the most spectacular: still only 15 in the 2005 season, he managed to average 94.70 with five centuries and a highest score of 153. Felix Flower, with another year to go, had a second very successful season at Gresham?s, with 943 runs and 33 wickets. Luc Durandt, aged 15, scored five centuries for Wellington College, Berkshire, with 912 runs at an average of 57.00. Neil Pinner, aged only 14, topped the averages at RGS Worcester, scoring 544 runs at 49.45.

Other leading run-scorers were Michael Thornely of Brighton College (1360 at 90.66), Sam Reddish of Solihull (1022 in only 15 innings at 68.13), and John Barrett of St Edward?s Oxford (1009 at 50.45); he scored over 2000 runs in his time in the 1st XI. Daniel Wood was another who averaged over 90, for Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield, and took part in a record stand of 300 with his brother Greg.

For Merchiston Castle, Gordon Mackie returned a very remarkable bowling average of 7.58, taking 17 wickets for 129, and Thomas Hanman of Sir Joseph Williamson?s Mathematical School nearly matched him at 7.71. For those of a statistical bent (again), Bryanston managed the extraordinary feat not only of having two players in the list of the top four bowlers (Jamie Gibbs and Sebastian Street) but also with exactly the same average of a neat 8.00. Vaughan Wheeler of Wolverhampton Grammar School performed creditably with an average of 8.53, while Robbie Williams of Marlborough secured a contract with Middlesex CCC on the basis of his 32 wickets at 8.62, having taken 108 wickets in his four years in the XI. Daniel Pheloung of Felsted and Graham White of Stowe were the leading wicket-takers, with 61 and 55 respectively.

Less obvious in even a quite careful perusal of the figures are the best all-rounders. Such players are like gold, in saving a batting or bowling place for somebody else. Thus, the Flintoffs who caught the eye in schools? cricket in 2005 were Asif Sultan, Felix Flower, Paul Muchall and Thomas Hanman (all mentioned above); also Stuart Tiffin of Durham, Chad Chisholm at Eastbourne, Alexander Cornwallis (Glenalmond), and Matt Spreigel (Whitgift).

Brighton College have often been innovators, and they played two girls in their 1st XI, Holly Colvin and Sarah Taylor, following in the footsteps of Clare Connor. However, they were not alone: Susie Rowe at Colfe?s was second in the school?s averages with 31.00, and Sophie Le Marchand was also second at King?s Worcester, with a very healthy 411 runs at 34.25. Indeed, Worcestershire seemed a hot-spot for cricket, with Bromsgrove, RGS Worcester and The King?s School, Worcester all enjoying very successful seasons.

Shortly after the 2005 season ended, Robin Marlar, the new President of MCC, created a stir by suggesting that girls should not be playing with or against boys, thus giving Brighton College a huge amount of good publicity. Holly Colvin, aged 15, not only represented her school but even represented England and helped to win the (female) Ashes, thus becoming the youngest player (male or female) to have represented her country in Test cricket. Sarah Taylor, 16, also played in the 1st XI and has two more years to go. Such girls can clearly hold their own in predominantly boys? cricket.

At the same time, there is a most encouraging initiative to revive cricket in State schools, something which Wisden thoroughly applauds. There are many State schools where cricket flourishes ? as seen in these pages – but clearly all too few. The charity Chance to Shine (www.chancetoshine.org) was set up in April 2005, and has already raised substantial sums. Let us hope their impressive efforts bear fruit quickly. The Ashes victory will surely prove an enormous boost to enthusiasm among the young.

Wisden would like to give greater coverage to both Girls? cricket and State schools? cricket, so more power to your left elbows, and send us your details next year (wisdenschools@yahoo.co.uk).