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Don Topley: Big anniversary for Suffolk junior cricket event

Action at the Minor Counties Cricket Festival at RHS. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

Action at the Minor Counties Cricket Festival at RHS. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

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In his weekly column, DON TOPLEY takes a look at the Minor Counties Cricket Festival at Holbrook, now into its 20th year

England's Olly Stone, once of Norfolk U11s! During a nets session at Lord's. Photo: PAEngland's Olly Stone, once of Norfolk U11s! During a nets session at Lord's. Photo: PA

One of the greatest junior cricket events in Suffolk is about to celebrate its 20th Anniversary.

More than 300 talented young cricketers will be descending on Suffolk over two age-group events which have become the annual 'Minor Counties Cricket Festivals'.

In 1999, three Suffolk schoolmasters and I sat on the beautiful cricket fields at the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, and discussed the idea of the Minor Counties junior age-groups participating together.

I was delighted they believed in my vision as the event has now become an important date in the junior cricketing calendar.

It was ambitious and, in the first year we had only Pembrokeshire, Cumbria, Norfolk and Suffolk. Today, we welcome 22 sides over the two-week event (nine days cricket) with ten counties competing at Under 12s and 12 teams at Under 11s.

All county squads reside at the impressive School which boasts five grass cricket squares and three astro pitches. Away from the cricket, the team building and bonding is essential in the cricketer's early development and this is probably their first experience of touring and possibly being away from home.

With so many talented and competitive young cricketers playing against each other they also learn about success and, more importantly, failure; they are all currently extremely big fish in small ponds.

Players and parents gather round at Holbrook during the festival Photo: CONTRIBUTEDPlayers and parents gather round at Holbrook during the festival Photo: CONTRIBUTED

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Everyone associated with the MCCF are very proud of the achievements over the years. To witness the joy, the excitement and the full range of emotions at the festivals is really a great honour. The 11 and 12 years olds' enthusiasm is infectious and a joy to see, with England's success in the World Cup just two weeks ago adding to the fervour.

All of these young cricketers are on the very first rung of the representative ladder. At this County age-group level not everyone can score runs or take wickets - the standard is really high.

Accompanying friends and family also descend on Suffolk for their summer holiday, taking great pride in watching their offspring represent their county. I suspect each and every boy and girl aspires to becoming a professional cricketer.

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The two age-group festivals also inject significant income into the local economy as parents, grandparents and siblings stay locally at hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and some simply camp.

They all eat out at the many eateries in Suffolk and North Essex.

The Under 12s is a formal competition which is sponsored by the Ipswich Building Society, playing five 45 over win, lose or draw matches. The Under 11s - which is sponsored by Colourplan Print - remains developmental with a mixture of long format games and some popular t20 fixtures which youngsters affiliate to today.

The Netherlands, Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Cleveland, Northumberland, Lincolnshire, London Schools, Huntingdonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire, Norfolk, North Essex, Invicta Academy and Suffolk participate at one or both age-groups.

In our professional First Class game there are over fifty professionals currently plying their trade who initially came through Minor Counties Cricket in the pyramid system.

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About half of those 40 have actually experienced the MCCF at RHS, Suffolk, where they represented their Minor County at U12 and/or U11 level. So there is absolute proof that good cricketers can be found in the Minor Counties younger age groups.

Three MCCF young cricketers have gone on to represent England in white ball cricket: Reece Topley (then Suffolk), Olly Stone (Norfolk) and Liam Livingstone (Cumbria).

Others to make their way into the professional arena include Tom Helm, Josh Davey, Jordan and Graham Clark, Andrew Salter, Rob Newton, Jaik Mickleburgh, Max Holden and the latest is Michael Pepper of Essex.

A good number of former international cricketers have visited the MCCF over the years to congratulate the boys and inspire them. The list includes: Jack Russell (who is about to launch a painting of a cricket scene at the School), Mike Gatting, Nick Knight, Dean Headley, Ryan Ten Doeschate to name but a few.

The ACO undertake the 98 Umpire appointments from all over Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire

The Minor Counties Cricket Festival now has the reputation of being the very best Junior Cricket Festival in the entire Country.

Admission is free, with spectators most welcome. The Under 12 Competition starts on Monday and completes next Friday. The Under 11s starts on Sunday 4th August for four days.

Matches start at 11am (Postcode IP9 2RX)

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