Shrewsbury School

Cricket: 1st XI National T20 Champions - full report by Martin Knox

Thursday 8 September 2011

Captain Henry Lewis being presented with the cup1st Semi Final (toss won by Shrewsbury School)
Wellington College 112 all out (Stephen Barnard 2 for 18, Ruaidhri Smith 2 for 19 , Alistair Pollock 3 for 14,Mark Prescott 2 for 6)
Shrewsbury School 118 for 3 in 14.2 overs (Jack Bailey 62 not out)
Shrewsbury School won by 7 wickets

Final (toss won by Shrewsbury School)
Portsmouth Grammar School  116 all out (Ruaidhri Smith 4 for 17)
Shrewsbury School  119 for 4 in 19.2 overs (Stephen Barnard 62 not out, Jack Bailey 41)
Shrewsbury School won by 6 wickets

As the Finals Day of the HMC T20 competition, had been rained off in July, there was unfinished business in September for  First XI cricketers and it was brought to a triumphant conclusion when, after twice losing in the semi-finals, they lifted the trophy for the first time. Moved from the Nursery ground at Lord’s to Arundel Castle, the event may have lost some of the glamour associated with “The Home of Cricket”, but the alternative venue has a tree-lined splendour of its own and much history besides.  Many famous cricketers have been proud to play there, and before the fixture list became as crowded as it now is, the touring team would always open with a match against the Duke of Norfolk’s XI. Sussex still visit annually.

Purely from a playing point of view, the switch had the unqualified advantage of restoring full-size boundaries, for playing a senior tournament on the Nursery is rather like holding a golf championship on a pitch-and-putt course. A ball hit in the air, whether timed or not, is likely to go for six, whereas at Arundel only an appropriate combination of strength and skill is rewarded.  At Lord’s, in the one over possible before the rain came, Sedbergh scored an imposing 24 runs against Portsmouth. In the re-match, it took six overs to match that score, and in the vain pursuit of a high scoring rate, they were eventually all out for 63.

Again it looked like being a bowler’s day when Stephen Barnard opened the second semi-final with a wicket maiden. Having restricted Wellington to 57 for 5 by the end of the twelfth over, we could be a little disappointed that they managed 112 (all out), and as three sides had struggled to find the boundary, there was cause for apprehension at the start of our innings – but nobody had told Jack Bailey. With a gesture that defined the rest of the day, he pulled the first ball high over the in-field for four and from that point never looked back. His unbeaten 62 was a magnificent innings, carrying Shrewsbury to a comfortable win with six overs to spare.

The pace bowlers, with Ruaidhri Smith at his fiery best, struck early once more in the Final, to have Portsmouth Grammar School in difficulties at 47 for 5 after eight overs. The Shrewsbury fielding was excellent throughout and the reliability of the catching made a significant difference at every stage. In the twenty-over format, the ball is frequently in the air and matches are won and lost by having fielders with good hands in the right places. Just as they benefit from boundaries reasonably set back, slow bowlers in particular depend on the support of their colleagues; they were rarely let down. The left-arm spin of Charlie Farquhar, the youngest player in the side, was the most economical, going for only four an over.

With Smith returning to take two wickets in the final over, Portsmouth were bowled out for 116, setting much the same target as in the semi. Could Bailey do it again?  Three fours in the first over was the answer. A repeat of the runaway victory in the first game looked less likely, however, when Stephen Leach, who had looked threatening in the previous game, was bowled,  needlessly attempting a trick shot.  Ruaidhri Smith, another fine striker of the ball, soon followed, run out after a protracted episode of indecision, and so Stephen Barnard came to the crease against a background of some tension. While the scoring rate was not a problem, this was a Final, two major players had just gone, and he was playing his last innings for the school. Being a Barnard, he is, of course, vastly experienced (he probably first played for the Shrewsbury CC 3rd XI at the age of six), and he weighed up the situation perfectly. Batting with calm authority, he demonstrated what a fine all-rounder he is. After briefly playing himself in, he hit a couple of wayward balls to the boundary, and for the rest of the innings proved equal to the best that the opponents could muster, finishing on 62 not out. It was a performance of high class.

When Bailey departed for 41, caught in the deep, the game was as good as won, and Alistair Pollock, another all-rounder from a distinguished stable, got quickly into his stride, hitting the winning runs. He had made useful contributions with both bat and ball, keeping up the pressure when needed. The player of the day, however, must be Jack Bailey, whose total in the two matches of 103 runs, rapidly accumulated, laid the foundations of victory. It is a measure of his superiority that he hit more boundaries in his twenty-seven overs at the crease than Wellington and Portsmouth combined managed in forty.

And so the year group that had won the equivalent ESCA tournament in 2009 had done it again – and emphatically. So few wickets had fallen that the captain, Henry Lewis, did not get to bat, but his popular and positive leadership was evident in the unified performance in the field.  Remarkably, there is only one leaver in the side, and while a player as good as Barnard will be missed, it is a strong squad that will be back to defend their title next season. This is never an easy task, for there will be good teams looking out for them.

Andy Barnard and Paul Pridgeon. looking rather proudNone of this would have been possible without the expertise and commitment of the coaches, Andy Barnard and Paul Pridgeon. The way in which the players respond to the demands of T20 is the product of thorough and wide-ranging preparation over time, not just before a game. Talent is identified at an early stage and set to work in a challenging fixture list, in the knowledge that encouragement to express themselves against strong opposition makes for confident performers under pressure. On the day, both men resist the temptation to micro-manage, and while the players know that their every move is under intense and critical scrutiny, they know, too, that they must make the decisions in the field and at the wicket. The short game calls for an approach to batting which would have been frowned upon, to say the least, when Andy and Paul were growing up; bowlers, too, must learn new tricks. It is no small feat to have adapted accordingly and to have taken the XI so far, so often. That they care deeply was never more apparent than in their delight at the outcome. No “dancing in the streets”, perhaps, but they were very, very pleased. 

An exhausted 1st XI after winning the HMC T20 championships

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