A year ago the Irish Schools embarked on a new venture in travelling to England to play the Yorkshire Schools and Cricket Academy. The former fixture was part of the host's Cricket Week held at St Peter's School, York and though the record shows that the match was drawn, in fact the Irish were soundly thrashed. The next day, and to our surprise and delight, in the revered surroundings of Headingley an altogether better performance against the Academy led to an honourable defeat with only 2 balls to go. Just a couple of weeks ago this season's Irish crop headed for the same surroundings, if not exactly the same venues, hoping that, with a squad that was generally thought to be stronger, significant improvement could be discerned.
The reality was no disappointment; having put the Yorkshire Schools very much to the sword, the Academy match, though ending again in defeat, contained some passages of excellent play, and the margin of defeat was 3 wickets. Indeed had rather more intelligence and application been shown in places who knows what might have come to pass.
On a gloriously sunny, warm day in York Iain O'Herlihy invited the home team to bat first on winning the toss. Though they got off to a swift start (this is a very quick scoring ground in our experience) with 50 without loss on the board in the 11th over, the Yorkshire innings relied almost exclusively on a century by Mark Ellis. Indeed only 4 of his colleagues reached double figures, and none of these went on to reach 20!
There were several contributory factors most notably that the fielding largely supported good quality bowling. Though Boyd Rankin did not take a wicket his spell caused the batsmen some discomfort. Kevin O'Brien was on the nail right from the start, producing a wicket in his first over, and beginning with 3 maidens. Stuart McDonnell went one better, tempting Kundi down the track to be stumped by his skipper from his first delivery!
Iain O'Herlihy's captaincy was also impressive; the re-introduction of Stuart Kidd just before lunch removed the in-form Anderson. After the break the home side were always struggling to break free, and despite Ellis' fine knock (18 boundaries in his 123), it required a couple of big blows off McDonnell's later overs to get them even close to 200.
In the circumstances Ireland had to fancy their chances to chase this total unless either they batted much more poorly than they had bowled, or Yorkshire achieved the reverse. In fact, if anything, the batting was to surpass the out-cricket with victory acquired by the 34th of 50 overs and with the small matter of 8 wickets to spare!
After 4 tentative overs openers Bill Coghlan and David Simpson launched the Irish innings with 28 runs from overs 5 and 6. Though Coghlan then spliced a return catch to Alex Boyle this merely brought in-form Ulster vice-captain Simon Wells to the crease. Obviously rested despite his tight cricketing schedule, Simon began to play shots to most corners of the ground. His driving down the hill, and well placed sweeps and hits into the large leg-side ensured that it was the batsmen who dictated the flow of the game. His left-handed partner Simpson mixed solid defence with some well judged lofted drives, and he, a survivor of last yearâs experience, obviously was determined to exact revenge. The Yorkshire Schools tried 9 different bowling options but their only success came with just 7 runs required for victory when Simpson miscued. His 64 contained 11 fours and 1 six, and his partnership with Wells was worth 158. Wellsâ undefeated 110 included 17 fours and 4 sixes the last of which brought the match to a conclusion. In my memory an Irish Schoolsâ XI has not so soundly overcome their opposition.