Wisden review of the 2007 season

SCHOOLS CRICKET 2007

REVIEW BY DOUGLAS HENDERSON

(Note: this is DCH’s original version, not the edited printed one)

There was some wonderful weather for schools cricket in 2007. This comment may surprise the general public and even most schools for whom 2007 will go down as one of the wettest in living memory. Nevertheless, as discussed in Wisden 2007, the schools? cricket season does not coincide with most people?s experience of the summer, the chief culprit being the public examination system, especially with the introduction of AS levels in 2001.

In this topsy-turvy summer, the weather was remarkably dry, warm and sunny in most parts of the country during the principal coaching and playing months of April and May. The second half of the summer term was a different story altogether, with many schools playing barely a single fixture because of the prolonged period of rain. It is more than sad that in a rare year when much coaching could be done, the benefits could not be reaped in the second half of the season.

There were exceptions, with some schools obviously enjoying their own micro-climate and playing as many as 20 fixtures. 22% of schools in these pages played fewer than ten fixtures (several round about five or six). One school had 10 abandoned matches. How can one possibly sustain interest in the game when in most schools pupils choose the sport they wish to play the following year?

One answer was to expand Twenty/20 cricket, which at least gave the opportunity for competitive cricket in the limited time available for matches. The National 20s competition, in its fourth year, attracted 52 schools, and many schools set up their own competitions locally.

However, you can?t teach people to play the game with a restricted diet of Twenty/20 matches, or even of 50-over matches. Learning how to bowl sides out is an essential ingredient of understanding cricket. Where will the future players (and spectators) for Test matches come from, if all that young players understand and appreciate is the whiz/bang/wallop of short overs games, with all too often negative bowling and defensive field-placings? As the Australians demonstrate regularly, you should start limited-overs games by trying to bowl the opposition out, with fields as attacking as in a Test match; then defend only if that ploy does not succeed.

A striking feature of schools? reports was the large number who reported fielding an exceptionally young side, and one finds oneself wondering why. Are the older players just not good enough? Have they taken up swimming? Is the post-exam exeat problem growing? There are serious concerns for the future of cricket even in some schools with excellent facilities and dedicated coaches. So serious that one Master in charge is calling for a national conference to debate the issues and see what can be done; his own professional coach, highly experienced, had been out of the school scene and coaching with a County Club but on his return was startled by the changes that had occurred in the last few years. Two schools privately reported problems with coaches of younger teams playing extremely short games because ?we have to be back by 6pm?.

In this largely rainy season, despite April and May, it was difficult for individuals to record outstanding aggregate performances, given the restrictions on fixtures. Averages were a different matter. In team performances, in addition to Hymers, Plymouth and Taunton,? mentioned in the oustanding seasons list, Cranleigh, Hampton, Lancaster Royal Grammar School, The Perse School and Stowe were also unbeaten.

Merchsiton Castle continue to dominate Scottish schools? cricket, with an astonishing record of? 54 wins out of 57 school matches in the last five years. In 2007, they won all games against Scottish schools, but lost to RGS Newcastle. In England, Taunton remain as dominant as ever in a very strong circuit. Hymers in Hull suffered more than most from torrential rains (alleviated perhaps by an end-of-term tour to the West Indies) and played only seven? matches, six of which were won and one drawn

Among batsmen, a remarkable figure of eight players averaged over 100, and Jonathan Bairstow over 200. The latter, with an average of 218, scored three centuries in eight innings, five of them undefeated, and was clearly the outstanding player of the season. Not always available for his school, St Peter?s York, because of commitments to the Yorkshire Academy and Yorkshire 2nd XI, the son of the late David Bairstow is clearly a name for the future. Despite the averages, only one player, Ben Ackland of Queen?s College Taunton,? reached an aggregate of 1000 for the season with a total of 1144.

Averages for some bowlers were even more startling: Mannan Nawaz of Bromsgrove achieved the extraordinary average of 3.00 with 11 wickets for 33 runs, and in only 16.4 overs. He did not bowl more because he is only in Year 10, but his leg-spin is clearly a threat to oppositions for the next few years. Bhasker Patel of Aldenham and Andrew Swain of Hymers with averages of 6.21 and 6.24 respectively, led a large cluster of bowlers who averaged under 10.00, 33 of them in all. This is a very considerable achievement.

It is not that uncommon for outstanding schoolboy cricketers to play for their County 2nd XIs, especially in their final year or just afterwards. Very striking that two boys, Chris Jordan at Dulwich and Sam Northeast at Harrow both made their debuts for County 1st XIs with still another year at school to go. Northeast played only one game for Kent, but Jordan had considerable success over five first-class games for Surrey, helping them to avoid relegation. His fastest ball was timed at 90.3 mph. He averaged 24.25 with the bat and took 20 wickets at 24.25.

One of the most extraordinary matches of the season was between Eastbourne and Brighton where, in a 50-overs game, Eastbourne scored 306 and lost. They had previously scored 382 for four in 50 overs against King?s Canterbury, and not surprisingly won. Batting first on the Brighton ground, Angus Stewart in a golden period scored his third consecutive hundred and the batting side must have felt comfortably placed with a total of 306 for six. Ollie Gatting had other ideas and scored a second consecutive century. After scoring at nine or ten an over for the last few overs, on the last ball of the match Brighton needed two to win with nine down. The ball was struck only to mid-off, but somehow Brighton scampered two and won this amazing match. A fine advertisement for schools? cricket.