It's now more than a month since the start of the school cricket season. Can you still remember the glorious weather that we experienced during the first half of April? With the Rugby season over, Soccer winding down and grounds drier than they normally are by mid-May all seemed set fair. The exams, while not out of thought completely, were a quite distant threat.
And now that we've passed the middle of May the grounds are saturated, the forecasts seem perpetually miserable, and at every turn there are Orals and written papers at GCSE, AS Level, and A2s. Schools are coming up with some variations on the usual themes for cancelling matches, so that if one is lucky enough to get the appropriate weather there is still little prospect of experiencing the ideal of the full 'Block Fixture', which would, of course, comprise a Long 1st XI game, and 2nds, Under 15s, 14s, 13s, and 12s. We have managed that but once so far, and you wouldn't have to be Einstein to guess that it was v RBAI.
Since the final verdict on any school course is likely to be by public examination, and since unless the weather continues its depressing pattern all term (surely not?) the last few weeks will be busy with Cup Finals and Schools Trials, I offer this Mid-term report with the hope that there will be significant improvement ahead. As ever some Subject Headings seem advisable.
Like so many pupils has flattered to deceive. Early signs were so promising, and although outfields are much better covered than in many a year, even our voracious grass is now struggling to cope with a rapidly re-rising water table.
Again began well but, for many, it's now back to the artificial options. As ever so many of our alleged better players, who have wintered on a diet of indoor nets, enhanced by bowling machines, are scratching their heads as to what to do when the opposition are not accommodating enough to send down (I nearly wrote chuck down, which simply wouldn't do) a liberal helping of full tosses and long hops. Hopefully someone will remind them of the value of the stolen single, and of batting the available overs. The tougher batsmen mentally will in these wet conditions often show their true worth. Those used to 20 over games on mats may flounder.
As luck will have it the first 2 Wednesdays of the competition have been dry, almost exclusively; so all the matches are up to date. Well not quite actually; they should be, but a couple of Schools have dragged their feet, which I find hard to believe. When they enter the event all know that these early Wednesdays are vital, and by now the equation is loaded, understandably, by the demands of examinations. When the Schools Committee meets next there may be some explaining to be done!
The King's School, Macclesfield, who have hosted several Northern Ireland sides over the years, took the opportunity of the May Bank Holiday week end to visit the province. It appears they took the weather back to England with them. Although the lead in had been a bit damp they enjoyed 3 glorious days at BRA, RBAI and Bangor. For us it was most gratifying to be able to return some of their hospitality at last and we hope to see them, and indeed other visitors, over the succeeding years.
MY OWN TEAM Oh dear! There have been passages of excellent play not least when we managed 235 for 3 declared v Macclesfield. However some of our cricket has been rather na•ve, and lacking in invention and imagination. Nonetheless improvement is discernible; happily running between the wickets which around this time last year led to 5 run outs in a row v Down High School (and 6 out of the first 7 wickets lost!) has been a strength and with stern tests to be faced over the next few Saturdays I'm hopeful that at the close of play we will feel that we have achieved.
I did hear a tale before the start of the season that one parent, who has more than a passing interest in a particular school had suggested (or was it instructed?) that his son's school should play 25 (or was it 20) over games so that aforementioned could then go on to play Section 1 cricket.
Fortunately this does not appear to be a widespread philosophy, though there has been a disappointing take up for Eadie Shield games. I suspect that the Schools who are prepared to commit to these extended games will have to be allowed to re-write their fixture lists henceforth for otherwise it will be difficult, at best, to bolster the playing values which our best Schools players must be exposed to. We shall see.
Unless it stops raining we're all up the left! Let's hope the Channel 4 Roadshow doesn't have to feature boating at Lisburn; (I remember many years ago travelling to that venue to play for an NCU team against a visiting Canadian touring side who endured a full 10 days of Monsoon, without the temperatures to match).
I hope that by the time the Schools Trial selection meeting comes along there will be many fine performances in School games to discuss and compare, and that by early July we can field an Ulster Schools' XI which carries on the good work of last year's side against their Southern counterparts, albeit that we are only allowed a 1-day game this time round. In the meantime try to fit a little Cricket viewing in between revision/ marking whether it is in the flesh, on the box (between Channel 4 racing) or as a cure for insomniac hours.