As I am sure you all know, cricket at Shrewsbury is currently a very successful and thriving sport. Will it be in such good shape in four years’ time? The answer must lie in the depth of talent in the under-14s and the standard of coaching. Just think how strong and healthy Salopian cricket will be if the under-14C team is a force to be reckoned with!
Some less imaginative academic institutions tend to assign their most inspirational and well-qualified coaches to their top teams. Andy Barnard, Master in Charge of Cricket at Shrewsbury, is a most enlightened man and has realised that it is important to bring on talent at every level and you need your best coaches with those who need the most coaching; that must be why he asked me to coach the under-14 Cs. Actually I see myself as more of the Squad Manager, as I am aided by Chief Coach Laurence Evans, a well-known figure in Shropshire youth cricket. I am never one to blow my own trumpet, but four games and four wins does suggest that the Evans/Bell partnership is beginning to show that dedicated coaching, hard work, extra practices long into the night all year long in our impressive Cricket Centre, technical expertise, attention to detail and occasional chats with School Cricket Professional Paul ‘The Pigeon’ Pridgeon (or ‘Big Bird’, as he does not like to be called) have reaped their reward. It has also led to a busier lifestyle, as my old friend Peter Moores (the new England Cricket Coach) has been on the phone a lot recently, searching to replicate a recipe that is clearly working here with his new-look England side.
I am a great believer in cricket being played in the sunshine, which is why I think England have suffered at times in the past. The venue is important too. The under-14Cs have been lucky this term. They started with an away match at Packwood Haugh. I remember a close personal friend of mine at Cambridge, ex-England Captain Mike Atherton, telling me that a beautiful place to play cricket ensures that the game will be played beautifully. I would totally concur, and Packwood is a beautiful place to play cricket – and eat chocolate cake. The result was beautiful too, as we won by 19 runs.
We then played Repton under-14Cs and won by ten wickets. Such was their enthusiasm to test themselves against ‘the best’, they brought twelve batsmen. Their players were bowled over by Shrewsbury in more ways than one, but we did finally manage to force them back onto their bus for their return to Repton. We then enjoyed a wonderful trip to Birchfield School, where we were royally entertained. We won by 14 runs but for me what stood out, apart from the vibrancy of the cricket, was the quality of the cake at tea.I remember another close friend of mine at Durham, ex-England Captain Nasser Hussain, telling me that he thought nutrition was a very important part of a modern cricketer’s diet.It was a very tough decision to turn down the coffee cake at Birchfield in favour of the Victoria sponge and I am still not sure I made the right decision.
This week saw the team travelling to Shrewsbury High School Prep. I say ‘travelling’ but in fact we decided to walk, as the team took the impressive decision that they would prefer to arrive at the ground devoid of the sluggishness that can often be associated with coach travel. Obviously this was a carefully thought-out part of the coaching plan and I think it is something we may try again, although this will depend on the Headmaster allowing us a week’s (or possibly two or three) travel time to walk to our away fixtures.
A concern when playing prep schools is not to over-intimidate the opposition with our immense height and so we made the players take the ‘Hedge Test’; which involves ensuring no one on our team is more than a head higher than the top of the Kingsland House Hedge. The Hedge Test was of course made famous by one of my grandfather’s close personal friends, Karl Jung, who believed it should be an archetypal test for all cricketers playing against younger opposition.
Arriving at another very pretty prep school venue, the team were delighted to accept the invitation to bat first, especially having carefully analysed the pitch.
Captain Bertie Speed (I) was very happy with both the team selection and his place in the batting order. “I am very happy with the team selection and my place in the batting order,” he told me. As a young cricketer I was always impressed by the captaincy of a close personal friend of my father’s, ex-England captain Mike Brearley. He appeared to be in the team generally in a diplomatic role, although he did on occasions score the odd run. Inspired by Mike, we made Tom Drury ‘captain of diplomacy’. Tom is one of the friendliest cricketers I have come across! Cricket can take such a long time there is always time to make new friends, and as a close personal friend of mine, current England international Ian Bell (no relation – although he told me once he wished he was) told me, “Cricket is all about cake and friendship”.
After losing a couple of early wickets, last-minute signing Will Sawyer (PH) steadied the ship with a carefully constructed innings. Tom Drury then top-scored with 24 and was ably aided in his diplomatic role by Tom Hughes, who ran himself out in case he took the game too far away from the opposition. There were also valuable contributions from notably Joe ‘Mosers’ Moseley and Sam ‘every shot a’ Peach! Finishing on 93 all out with one ball left, I felt Shrewsbury High Prep could be proud of their bowling performance against such a successful side. “Shrewsbury High Prep could be proud of their bowling performance against such a successful side.” I said.
After a wonderful piece of coffee cake – I think the only piece that Housemaster of Radbrook-elect and ex-Kingsland Grange pupil Dr Richard Case left us – it was back to the cricket.
The youngsters from the Prep batted with guts and determination in reply, and it took an excellent bowling and fielding display to keep them 17 runs away from victory. James Crewdson and Joe Dodd were perhaps the pick of our nine-man attack and they were well supported by some excellent catching from Will Blanchard-Butter and Richard Walker, as well as some laconic wicket-keeping by Fred Blanchard-Butter.
It was a game enjoyed by all and it was a delight to visit another wonderful prep school and have one’s cake and eat it – as my old friend Mr Kipling might have said!