My earlier article on the Ulster Schools' Cup may have created the impression that this is the sole diet for that level of cricket in the province. This is far from the case, for there is a series of competitions run on a knock-out basis by Wesley Ferris's Mid-Ulster Cricket Group, in addition to many "friendly" matches played as part of block fixtures. However the Schools' Committee is very keen that more games are played under the rules set aside for the Eadie Shield. This is named after a former and much admired master-in-charge at Bangor Grammar School, a tantalising leg- spinner in his day, who was brought up on a sequence of cricket at The Mall in Armagh and College Park in Dublin and was a great believer in the virtues of the `Long Game'.
Mike Hendrick "espoused the
'painting by numbers' game"
In the headlong dash towards the 50 over `painting by numbers' cricket espoused by the former Ireland National Coach these `Long Games' are the only opportunity for any of our younger players to be exposed to the type of matches which the full Irish team, thankfully, still play at times, most notably in the annual joust with the Scots. It seems that even the `Poms' have caught on to the necessity to offer, at some stage in the development of players, the opportunity to play prolonged innings and bowl with consistency. That this is the staple fare of Grade cricket in Australia (and club games in New Zealand) ought really be an indication to us all, for there cannot have been a time at which the Aussies seemed more ahead of the rest in talent and technique. Surely this is not a coincidence?
Ulster Schools organised a three match (each of 2 days duration) tour to the South of England last summer, a move necessitated by the ECB's demolition of the existing ESCA structure. No longer was there a Northern Counties festival week with matches pre-arranged, so a new venture had to be undertaken. The Minor Counties Under 19 sides playing in the ECB 2-day event were keen to have warm-up matches, so that was the opportunity to join the circuit. Much interesting cricket ensued and with a positive approach, sometimes occasioned by our ineptitude, we were able to turn all three games into two innings contests.
However, what the players learned most of all was that being able to hang around for 10 to 20 overs and play a few shots was some way short of the levels of application and concentration required. For bowlers the lesson was that on top class wickets batsmen often didn't have to wait long to spot a free offering if their own standard dropped only a little. To their credit the players gave it their best shot, advanced in these virtues during the trip, and, to a man, saw by the end of the trip the value in what we had done, and where we were trying to lead them.
The lessons for Irish cricket were further emphasised by the dismal showing of our Under 19 batsmen in the Youth World Cup in Sri Lanka. As so often in the past when our youngsters go abroad the bowlers performed heroically and with no little success, but the batsmen, at best, struggle or glitter only briefly. Why then not push straight away to expose all our up and coming players to this longer type of game?
The Eadie Shield rules provide for matches which can be of a fixed number of overs which ranges from 60 to 100, rising in multiples of 10. Batting points are available up to the mid-point whereas, when you are bowling, you can always capture those points. There is a `cut-off' point beyond which if the team batting first continues they surrender draw points to their opponents in the event of no side winning outright. It may seem a little contrived, but the boys quickly catch on to the nuances and it does at least make the "we're not declaring" attitude seem a, literally, pointless one!
The schools' selectors will be hoping for more of the type of match enjoyed by BRA and RBAI recently wherein almost 400 runs were scored and 18 wickets fell, with the visitors winning when their slow left-armer James Clifford took a wicket with the very last ball. The game had also featured major innings from Simon Wells for Inst and Danny Morgan for the Academy, the latter being one of those whose game has seemed to prosper following his participation in last year's tour.
There is a busy representative programme coming up, though, disappointingly, the Irish Cricket Union have been unable to service the demand for a prestigious Irish Schools' fixture. Perhaps next year, and with the realisation in England of the necessity to reintroduce such Schools events, this will be accomplished. In the meantime the Ulster Schools will face The Leprechauns (9 June at Drummond), MCC (at Campbell College on June 20) and the Southern Schools (basically Leinster) at Armagh (4t July) and The Hills (6 July). Thereafter, and without any of those fortunate enough to be selected for the Irish Under 19 (or is it Under 18 Team?) for the European tournament at Northampton, there will be another trip to England from 13-19 July. With an `A' selection travelling to Cork in late July to play Munster there will be plenty of opportunities for players to show that they have the qualities which, I feel, we should be looking for in our stars of the future.