DON TOPLEY COLUMN: Cricket is a chance to get away from revision for a time

Cricket action at RHS, Holbrook

Cricket action at RHS, Holbrook - Credit: Archant

The Schools’ cricket season only has a few weeks to go before everyone signs off for the end of term but the annual challenges with the cricket versus public examinations remain.

Today, Independent Schools embark on a ten or 11-week term, playing full block fixtures on Saturdays and respective age-group fixtures on their allocated midweek sports afternoons.

With a high percentage of today’s England’s cricketers coming from the independent schools’ sector one can see how important that conveyor belt remains for the top level of the sport.

Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Sam Billings, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Chris Jordan, Johnny Bairstow, Stuart Broad Tom Curran, Mason Crane and Reece Topley all attended independent schools.

Whilst I don’t want to become embroiled in the political argument, a few state schools do play and have some fixtures, but never on Saturdays; sadly these remain isolated ‘hot spots’ – often relying on a member of staff who himself was a cricketer.

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The reality for school teachers today is that unless you played the game at School, then you are unlikely to take it on through university and have a genuine interest.

Many newly-qualified teachers will not offer cricket as one of their sports.

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Teachers today see an hours tennis, badminton or even football less of a commitment than some six-hour game of cricket (excluding travel) which the traditional independent Schools play.

I was a ‘Master in Charge of cricket’ and cricket professional for nearly 24 years at the Royal Hospital School, in Holbrook, and found it a very satisfying role with the responsibility to enthuse young people, whatever their ability.

Sport offers youth an opportunity for a social outlet when they leave school and hopefully every young person I came across will have enough knowledge of cricket to appreciate it should they visit Lord’s or The Oval whether as a spectator or a guest in a corporate box.

Cricket has an advantage unlike football and rugby: you can still play into your 50’s, 60’s, and even the Over 70s have a county competition.

Last Saturday - and in the middle of the public examinations season - Norwich School hosted RHS in five fixtures whilst a further six were played at RHS. The Senior 1st XI was an all-day declaration affair starting at 11.30am.

The Royal Hospital School now has the former Essex CCC legend, Graham Napier, to coach and enthuse their pupils.

They play their home games on an excellent wicket on the beautiful banks of the River Stour, frequently witnessing an impressive 200 boys and girls playing representative or social cricket on a Saturday afternoon.

Jed Cawkwell – a former RHS pupil - is the new Norwich School ‘Master in Charge’. Jed broke into the main Suffolk County Cricket side last year with considerable success. Jed has also overseen Norwich School’s initiative to become a satellite centre for the Sussex CCC Academy assisting with the development of some of the better cricketers from all over East Anglia.

There are continuing issues surrounding School Examinations for schools generally.

Some UK Headmasters welcome and encourage their School playing the shorter t20 version of cricket, as it takes less time.

Some schools encourage their ambitious cricketers to go and play senior club cricket which then becomes a parental choice with no comeback on the school should those children fail their exams.

Other Headmasters simply give in to the full fee-paying parents’ request that ‘little Johnny’ cannot play School Cricket as he needs to prepare for his exams.

In all my years I don’t remember a boy struggling academically because of cricket. In fact, the game of cricket was a chance to get away from revision and its pressures, get some fresh air and therefore manage his busy time far more productively.

Incidentally, Norwich 1st XI defeated RHS by 63 runs at The Close, to claim bragging rights.

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