is great fun with the right kids.
I was reminded of that last week at Denby, when the end of the game between Derbyshire and Yorkshire 2nds saw car after car drop off youngsters for nets at the ground.
It was very impressive and the club looked to be very well run. The facilities were excellent and it was a real joy to see so many youngsters participating in the game.
It made me think back to when I first moved to Scotland, and my first post at a secondary school near Glasgow. It was a state school, one with a good academic record, but no facilities whatsoever for cricket. With Martin, an English teacher who has become a long time friend and team-mate, we started cricket, played in the assembly hall, with what we called "air balls". You might know them, little plastic balls with holes in them for playing indoor hockey and the like. By taping up one side, these balls would swing prodigiously, and off two paces against kids holding a bat for the first time I was lethal. If I could have translated that to the real game I'd have had a Test call up...
Eventually we dispensed with the tape and just used the air ball prior to the season starting indoors, before using the orange "wind balls" which give a realistic bounce without the pain. You see, state schools in western Scotland rarely have grass as its too hard to maintain. Blaes, a red cinder ash pitch covering is everywhere and that had to do for cricket. For football it was murder. I remember in my first Staff v School game putting in a sliding tackle that got the ball but left me looking like I'd been hit by a bottle of tomato sauce with a nasty burn down my leg. For cricket the bounce was OK but, depending on how you set the wickets, you either had very short square or straight boundaries - it was a football pitch after all.
Wanting to encourage the boys to play straight, I aligned the wickets along the halfway line and it worked well. Practice was good, and we worked on a few fixtures. There were a couple of natural bowlers, two or three with a good eye and the rest were makeweights. We played our first match on grass at a local school where the head of PE was a good local cricketer.
The thing was, his school didn't have cricket on the curriculum, and while they had grass, there wasn't much of it. Our opening bowler was singularly unimpressed when he found that four strides from the crease he had to stradde a sandpit. Try that one Dale Steyn and keep your rhythm. Our boys had only done catching practice with a hard ball, and when the star batsman got hit in the stomach in the first over the team were unimpressed by the prospect of batting and we were out for less than 20.
At the start it was a mess. One kid turned up with a mohican hairdo and wearing eye-liner. Another forgot his trousers and played in boxer shorts. A third only played because you got a good cricket tea rather than the pie that followed a football match.
We improved though and were impeccably turned out, both in school uniform and whites. We improved so much so that four years later a Glasgow schools representative side had seven of our boys in it. We played, and beat, most of the private schools in a story that people said would have made a good film. We won six a side tournaments, eleven a side cups. It was rewarding and incredibly good fun. One night we were bowled out in the final of a six-a-side for 23 and the opposition coach was confident and said so.
They made four all out. We had some players.
Youngsters like John, who bowled very quickly but who was scared to dive as his mam told him she wasn't washing his whites twice in a week. Gary, who found the greatest fun of all was holding a protective box to his ear so he could "hear the sea". David, who batted with charm and threw a ball unbelievable distances, usually running out two or three per game. Ashley, who sometimes seemed more intent on playing the perfect looking shot than actually remembering to run. Darren, a little kid who bowled huge off spinners and Pete, who only had one shot but usually hit the ball for four or six with a huge grin. Neil, the quickest young bowler I've seen, who frightened most teams, even the good ones, but lost it when he went to a club who told him to bowl line and length. Alan, a lithe young keeper who had brilliant hands and was a very exciting bat. Best of all Garry - another one - the funniest kid I ever met with a fantastic sense of timing with the bat and with a one-liner. He it was who broke the silence after I had stopped a fierce pull, umpiring at square leg, with my nether regions, collapsing in a heap and wondering if everything was still there.
"He did that on purpose" said one of the batsmen
"C'mon guys" said Garry, as my boys gathered round, a couple concerned, the rest in hysterics "Even he's not that committed to cricket"
Great days. I still see some of them from time to time and three now coach themselves. I was reminded of it last week at Denby, and the future of the game seemed secure in that idyllic part of Derbyshire. Wheels turn full circle and the next generation appeared to be in very good hands.