The process of education is never done. It can often be a long and painful experience though the satisfaction to be gained, as an "educator", when one's pupils finally get the point, is considerable. There does seem to be some reason to believe that a certain amount of progress is being made in convincing the "cricketing powers that be" that the slavish diet of 50 overs/one fifth overs per bowler maximum (`Hendrickism' I call it) is not the best way for us to nurture our resources.
It had been for long argued that this form of cricket enhanced the participation by ensuring that 5, or more, bowlers had to be employed. What has in fact happened is that mediocre batsmen prospered by keeping the best bowlers out and then butchering the lesser bowlers. Fine until these same "batsmen" came up against an attack with no weak bowlers, or one or two of their more frantic shots went to hand. The introduction of boundary fielders who can catch, or wicket-keepers who can stump was a shock to the system of many of our top cricketers, notably in the ICC Trophy demise in Malaysia. The lesson was further rammed home by the defects shown up in Toronto, where although our batsmen held up, the standard of our bowlers was shown to be inadequate.
What does this have to do with schools' cricket, you may enquire? Well, at least at this level in Ulster, there have been some attempts to keep the virtues of the more traditional form of the game to the forefront. There are, in fact, several different formats being employed, and it is clear that each has its part to play in the development of players.
The Schools Cup is run on the principle that it is a 40 overs competition with each bowler being restricted to 10 overs maximum. Since the ECB introduced their "advisory" limits to the number of consecutive overs age group bowlers could purvey this has effectively meant that rarely can so many overs be bowled in one spell. It is a considerable advantage to have a top-class wicket-keeper, though he may be forced to be burdened by a helmet! Ted Cooke, now Honorary Secretary of the NCU, was the man behind the 10 over restriction. His philosophy was that we wanted to see, in our premier event, the best batsmen confronted by the best bowler. This would help both to identify and develop representative candidates. There can be little argument that he was correct.
The Schools involved in an individual match can scale down the total overs (in units of 4) to cope with such problems as traffic delays, examinations or weather. It would, of course, be well to remember to bat first if you win the toss in the case of a delayed start, since the opposition thereby may have to contend with the fading light! As the competition proceeds the tendency is for the matches to be scheduled over the full distance, since most teams recognise that the shorter the game the more likelihood of a "freak" result.
When schools took part in the former MUCG Cups (McCullough, Sherrygroom and Picken), the only rule was that the one fifth overs stipulation applied. Unlike the Schools Cup there tended to be a certain amount of horse trading until the total number of overs was settled. Common sense normally prevailed. As a matter of course the latter stages often contained the longer games; few rivalled a famous Foyle versus Bangor clash in the early 80s when, in a 45 over game at Springtown, Bangor's 265 proved to be a winning score by 3 runs!!
But it is in taking part in the Eadie Shield that Schools can give their players the chance to experience the virtues of "Long Match" cricket. These matches can be defined by Time or a Total number of overs, often 80 which represents approximately 5 hours cricket. There are a number of simple principles at play in what some people simplistically regard as a complicated points scoring system.
As yet this competition has not reached its potential. However there are a core of schools which see the value in it, and who regularly play 4 or 5 games in this format. It may well be that they will need to be able to redraft their fixture lists in the near future to ensure that they face all, or most, of the like-minded schools. There would still be room for some shorter fixtures which could be scheduled around late May or early June when the sceptre of exams is greatest. There is no doubt that when it comes to picking representative schools sides that the players who have had these opportunities to play longer innings, or bowl to take wickets have an edge. Even more obviously the potential captains will display a greater inventiveness and all round nous than those restricted to the short diet.
Finally, as the evenings lengthen, spare a thought for the masters in charge. They will soon be gearing themselves up for the many tasks of the summer term. Throw in a little teaching, marking and report writing in addition to Minibus driving, umpire finding, layers of pullover acquiring, player cajoling, fax or email deciphering (discovering perhaps), tea/lunch providing and wicket preparation supervising and you have a basic idea of what it entails. But sure we all do it for the love of the game!
Next week - more Cup Draws.