Up and down the land the counties’ emerging sixteen year olds are shrugging off the effects of GCSEs and starting to play two day cricket alongside their 17 year old elders.
Opening bowlers are learning the pleasure of returning late in the day for their third spell. Top order batsmen are finding out how their minds and bodies perform as they move towards 150. Spinners are seeing how their fingers and stamina stand up to bowling 25 overs in a day, sometimes on the trot.
Numbers 5 and 6, the completer finishers of the one day game, now have to learn the art of building a big innings from a start of 150 for 3 or 190 for 4, and, in a form of the game which lays down a minimum of 105 overs in a day, batsmen 8 and 9, perhaps for the first time at county level, find themselves as the shadows lengthen facing a new ball.
The playing conditions provide for two innings for each side but the points awarded for first innings lead and the batting and bowling points for runs and wickets in first innings encourage both sides to bat for approximately a whole day each.
As the scoreboard above shows, the group of Lancashire players batting on the second day at Ormskirk C.C. had the job of getting 335 runs to win this informal trial match that determines who will play in the Under 17 ECB competitions and who will appear for the County’s Under 16s during the remainder of the summer.
Their 16 year old opener, 37 at the time the above photograph was taken, batted through the day, building on his overnight score of twenty or so in a chanceless innings of accumulation and steadfastness.
Almost carrying his bat with 141 the opener hauled his side to within 20 runs of the task, batting on a damp, overcast day in contrast to the ideal batting conditions of the day before.
12 or so will be selected to play for the Under 17s on Monday and Tuesday in an annual fixture against the Under 19s at Andrew Flintoff’s St Anne’s C.C.. This match is likely to confirm the squad that will then play Yorkshire, Durham, Derby and Cheshire in Two Day and One Day competitions over the following five weeks.
The team that tops the 50 over competition moves on to play in a national knockout competition and the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth sides in the Two Day league play their opposition numbers from another region. (East Midlands last year.)
A typical week for those lucky young men will find them turning up for training at Old Trafford at 6.00 on a Monday evening. Setting out by coach for a hotel close to their away fixtures, playing a two day match followed by a one day match on different grounds. Learning the life on the road of a cricketer and the need to rub along with each other through trials and tribulations, injuries and hard won successes.
All such fixtures are (or should be) available on the websites of Counties and their Cricket Boards, and results are recorded at Play-Cricket. They provide for ‘Speckies’ (as they call them in Ormskirk) a fascinating and rewarding day.
Under 17 sides will contain academy players and some with 2nd XI experience, as well as those on the ECB’s Emerging Players Programme. A number will, within a couple of years, receive their scholarships, 2nd XI initiations, first contracts and First Class debuts.
It is well worth seeking out these fixtures and enjoying watching young players revelling in the time to play the long form of the game.