Don Topley: RHS cricket festival is always a fantastic occasion for young players

The RHS festival at Holbrook, always a great occasion for young players and their families.

The RHS festival at Holbrook, always a great occasion for young players and their families. - Credit: Archant

In his weekly column, Don Topley takes a look at the RHS cricket festival, now in its 19th year.

Three former Minor Counties Cricket Festival young cricketers who represented England Lions just thr

Three former Minor Counties Cricket Festival young cricketers who represented England Lions just three weeks ago v India A: Reece Topley (Hampshire) Liam Livingstone (Lancashire) and Tom Helm (Middlesex) Photo: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

With the children now on their summer holidays, 320 talented young cricketers will be descending on Suffolk over the next two weeks.

For the 19th year, The Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, will be staging the Under-12s cricket competition and the Under-11s cricket festival, sponsored by the Ipswich Building Society.

I remember back in 1999, when three Suffolk schoolmasters (John Goldsmith, Peter Zagni and Ron Chenery) discussed my proposal of staging a youth cricket festival in Suffolk.

I am delighted they believed in my vision as it has become the great event in the junior cricketing calendar.

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It was ambitious but in the first year we just had Herefordshire, Lincolnshire, Staffordshire, Buckinghamshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Today, we welcome 22 sides over the two weeks (nine days cricket) with ten competing at Under-12s and 12 teams at Under-11s.

The Minor Counties Cricket Festivals (MCCF) now has the reputation of being the very best Junior Cricket Festivals in the Country.

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All 22 sides stay at the impressive HMC Boarding and Day School and clearly cricket is the reason for being here.

But the team building and bonding is essential in their early development, together with learning about success and more importantly, failure; back at their own county they are big fish in a small pond but here they will be competing against similarly talented players.

We are extremely proud of the MCCF achievements over the 19 years.

To witness the joy, the excitement and the full range of emotions at the festival is really a great honour. The 12/11 years olds’ enthusiasm is infectious and a joy to see.

Clearly, all the boys are talented young cricketers but some are yet to experience failure or see many others succeed, so it becomes a very important part of their development – they are on the very first rung of the representative ladder. At this impressive County age-group level not everyone can score the runs or take the wickets – the standard is high.

Accompanying parents make the trip to Suffolk their summer holiday where they all take great pride in watching their offspring represent their county. The children are probably on their first formal representative tour which should be a memorable and proud experience for all concerned.

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

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

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

In the professional First Class game there are about 40 current professionals plying their trade who came initially through Minor Counties Cricket.

About half of those 40 have played at the MCCF at RHS, Suffolk, where they represented their Minor Counties at U12 and/or U11 level. So it does prove that good cricketers can be found in the Minor Counties younger age-groups.

Two MCCF young cricketers have gone on to represent England in white ball cricket: Reece Topley and Liam Livingstone. Others to make their way into the professional arena include: Tom Helm, Ollie Stone, Josh Davey, Jordan and Graham Clark, Andrew Salter, Rob Newton, Jaik Mickleburgh and the latest, Max Holden of Middlesex.

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 recently painted a cricket scene at the School), Mike Gatting, Nick Knight, Dean Headley, Ryan Ten Doeschate to name but a few.

Woolpit groundsman, Tim Parker, returns for the final time as MCCF grounds curator and is always under pressure to produce six excellent cricket wickets a day, for the nine days – and he does brilliantly!

The ACO undertake the 98 Umpire appointments from all over Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – thanks to them all!

Spectators are most welcome with matches starting daily at 11am (Postcode IP9 2RX)

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