A new day of term! However, this time it was the dreaded fifth form. It was the week of the U15 20/20 National Final at Arundel and training before finals day on Sunday would be essential. I arrived at school (5 minutes late as per usual) excited to meet everyone but to my surprise the whole house was a frantic rush, all eager to get to the first whole school assembly of the year. I therefore decided to gather all my books for the first three periods and start a light jog to catch up with the rest. The whole school flowed into Alington Hall, and in a matter of seconds the building went quiet whilst everyone rose to greet the Headmaster. He delivered his opening speech, telling us how he and many others, including myself were inspired by our Great British athletes during the London 2012 Olympics. He also went onto declare how this year's GCSE and A-Level Results were the best in the recent history of the school. ‘Pressure was on,’ I thought to myself, having full faith in my year to deliver even better results.
The academic year kicked off with Biology, and immediately we were right into the thick of the syllabus. No writing names on new files, no chatting about how our summer was, but instead a test on how much we had remembered of last year's work! From then on it had struck me. I knew this year would be jam packed; full of Doctor Law English essays and hour long tests each week. Great! Luckily, the first few lessons up to 1 o’clock drifted by, and the smell of fish ‘n’ chips drew everyone to the newly refurbished KH. I was just expecting a new drinks machine or maybe new tables, but to my great surprise, everything was new and awesome! There was a floating island with multiple salad choices, a desert bar, and a deli choice!
After a scrumptious lunch, it was society’s hour which was soon followed by the last two lessons before sport. For me, sport for the term was golf and squad badminton. I had played golf many times over the summer with my dad at Henlle Park golf club, and when it came up on the sport option sheet, I could not resist not signing up! Today, we went to the driving range at Arscott, where the golf pro coached us on weight distribution. It was an amazing afternoon out as the weather was great. After sport it was time to go home and start the year's first set of Topschools.
Tuesday marked the second day of term. The usual 8:20 callover at house awakened me from the early morning daze and at 8:30 sharp was our first tutor meeting with Mr Dalton. He at least managed to lighten the atmosphere with a classic pub quiz (more university challenge!) rebooting every stiff crank in our brains. Today was the day I would meet one of my two new teachers, Miss Weatherstone, the French replacement - who was extremely nice and sympathetic. Although she expected all A*s from our set she was happy to help and give support when needed. Fortunately, all the lessons flew by, and it was soon time for our first cricket practice session for the finals. Training, as expected, was intense. A two hour session in the cricket centre lasting until 10:30 pm consisted of fielding drills followed by a net and finally a cool down whilst discussing tactics. Everyone had to perform as today, Mr Greetham (our coach) was to decide the team for the National Finals. The atmosphere seemed tense, but our coach was the best at calming us down, getting us ready for the big weekend.
Wednesday, effectively a half day compared to Monday and Tuesday. The day kicked off with double chemistry and the second of my two new teachers. Miss Woo, strict yet you could tell she could get us good grades. The first lesson was sharp. We effectively revised the whole of last year’s syllabus for chemistry in less than an hour! I must say I was speechless at the end of that period! At the end of the day, after surviving double history on the top floor of the Main School Building, I had to rush down what seemed a never ending flight of stairs to get ready for 2 o’clock in order to make the bus for golf at Arscott. We were to play the back nine holes in fours and the winner at the end would get a prize, probably in the usual form of a Mars bar. The course unfortunately proved tough. With what seemed like the thick rough of the British Open and the rapid greens of Augusta I managed to get around in an average six over par, two behind the winner.
On arriving back home, I immediately checked the ‘intranet’ to see if Mr Greetham had posted the team for the finals. There I saw it, the link to the team. My heart was racing, the biggest cricket final I had ever been in, but was I to be chosen? I could breathe, there I saw my name. Yes!
Another ‘half day,’ but this time we had a mixed practice match with the U17 later on this afternoon. The highlight of today’s lessons however would have to be Reverend Dobbie’s eventful PSHE lesson in which we discussed what life would be like with no limitations from parents. Many witty and creative suggestions were blurted out, followed by the Reverend's cheeky yet easily recognisable chuckle which always lightened the mood, whatever the situation. PSHE effectively acted as a well deserved break (if I may say so) from the immensely tough GCSE lessons we had got used to.
After lessons and lunch we had Thursday activities for which I had chosen photography, a hobby I had taken up whilst on a Kenyan safari earlier this year. The theme was wildlife and how it merged with man-made buildings around the school site. It was great fun, as after taking the photos we were able to crop and Photoshop each one, adding to an album which would be put on display at the end of the term.
At precisely 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the mixed match with the U17 had begun. After winning the toss, we opted to bat first, posting a respectable 163 in 20 overs, helped considerably by Ed Pollock’s 53 not out. At the half way stage, as the sun was beginning to set, we strolled out into the field. Luckily, a few early wickets put us in a great position before I came on to bowl. I kept a tight line bowling the odd slower ball to deceive the batsmen. My patience was soon to be rewarded as the batsmen, trying to increase the run-rate scooped the ball straight into mid-wickets hands. Wickets kept on falling and just as the last glimpse of the sun disappeared, the number eleven batsmen walked out. Thankfully, he didn’t last for too long, allowing us to win by a 32 runs. Despite winning, the most important thing was to obtain a full match under our belts before the real thing on Sunday.
During the last day before our departure for Arundel, we were told to keep things easy and most importantly to relax. For a change, I could easily obey these ‘suggestions.’ No Topschools or intense training, no problem at all! The day thankfully flew by, and a light bowl in the cricket centre put me in great shape for Sunday’s final.
At 4 o’clock sharp, we departed for Arundel, Sussex. I couldn’t contain my excitement of playing in a national final at a first class cricket ground! Sunday would easily be the biggest day of my cricketing career. The four hour long journey to our overnight halt in Havant, Portsmouth was lengthy, but a meal out was sure to cheer us up. Tomorrow was a big day, so it was essential we got a good night's sleep as our first match started at 10:15 against Bolton School. A last discussion of tactics in the hotel foyer and a team talk from our captain, George Lewis left us pumped for finals day.
Today was the day. After a light breakfast, we loaded our kit in the back of the minibus and set off for Arundel, eager to get a first glimpse of the ground. The weather was thankfully great; sun, and a slight breeze, perfect conditions for playing cricket. The drive was about a half hour away from our overnight halt, and on arriving at the ground, the late night practices and all the games played over the summer proved to be worthwhile. The picturesque setting of the ground situated in Arundel Castle’s gardens was overwhelming. It sat perfectly amongst the trees and hills of Sussex, shining due to the reflection of the sunlight on the dew-covered outfield. We entered the changing rooms, got ready for a warm up and jogged out onto the ground after having our team photo. A few fielding practices and a light bowl gave us only 15 minutes before the semi-final match began. Before the toss, our coach managed to give us our last team talk of the season. He told us to have no fears. Yes it was the National Finals, but we were also here to have fun. It was an achievement on its own getting this far and anything more would be a bonus. This was the mentality we were able to maintain throughout the competition, and today we weren’t going to let the occasion affect our performance.
Our captain came back, having lost the toss, but no matter as Bolton inserted us to bat, exactly what we set out to do. Our plan was to make at least 150 runs, putting pressure on Bolton who had three effective batsmen. If we could get past those three, we had a very decent chance of making the final. The wait was over, the first ball was bowled and we were underway. Our openers Freddie Adair and George Lewis had a slow first two over’s but soon picked up the pace, getting us off to a flyer putting on a 120 between them, before top scorer Freddie Adair (72) was dismissed. We all however had great confidence, despite losing a wicket as pressure was still on the Bolton bowlers. Unfortunately, we lost a bit of momentum towards the end of the innings but still managed to post a competitive total of 153.
It was a quick change over and in a matter of seconds our opening bowlers, George Panayi and Max Parsonage came charging in. They baffled the opening batsmen, finding the edge and the magic yorker which was impossible to hit. Max took a blinder of a catch and by the fourth over Bolton School was 22-3. What a start! If we could keep this form up we were sure to be in a good position. From the sixth over I came on to bowl. I tried to keep things simple, just like I do in the nets. Bowl good lines and lengths and I was sure that the batsmen would not be able to hit me. It thankfully worked. The odd single or two here or there did not matter too much as long as I kept the boundaries to a minimum. However, unfortunately things turned for the worse. Our fielding and bowling disciplines stumbled, and Bolton did not lose another wicket, passing our score with eight balls to spare. It was all over.
There was a sense of shock as we walked back to the changing rooms, heads down with disappointment. The room was silent. We didn’t even have the urge to drink water. We couldn’t help thinking how we faltered so easily at the last hurdle, and how we let such a good opportunity slip. The door of the changing rooms opened soon after, and in walked our coach. He could see our saddened faces, and immediately gave us a comforting talk. He expressed how proud he was of us getting so far in the competition and how each and every one of us deserved a huge well done.
The day seemed to go by too quickly. After collecting our semi-finalist medals, we found ourselves back on the bus, heading back to school. What a memorable week it proved to be. Despite not winning, we still had the great honour of saying that we were there. We were at the U15 20/20 National Finals.
Rishi (left) after winning the ESCA Midlands T20 Final at the end of last term