Sunday, 29 January 2012

One for the parents

Without fear of contradiction I feel it can be said that Derbyshire currently have the best clutch of young players in their 141 year history. In the late 1920s, the side that became Championship winners emerged but it owed as much to the industrial unrest of the period as anything else. Indeed, the likes of Bill Copson and Tom Mitchell may never have come through but for playing cricket in the enforced downtime during miners' strikes.

At whatever level you care to look, Derbyshire at present have some remarkably talented young players, the result of a lot of hard work by Karl Krikken and Howard Dytham in particular. Yet the success of these youngsters is also down to encouragement and a great deal of support from parents. In most cases it is parents who get them out of bed in the morning, often at early hours for away trips, who find the time to attend matches, buy kit, drive them here, there and everywhere and offer support through the good times and the bad. The latter is especially important, because the bad times will always follow on to the ones when you feel you can't miss a ball or the stumps.

I know this all too well. When I first moved to Scotland over thirty years ago I started cricket at the local secondary school where I worked, armed with a level one coaching badge from the club I played for. From a few practice sessions with first and second years, it soon became evident that I had some impressive raw talent, kids with a good eye for the ball and willing to listen, learn and, crucially, attend practice in winter and summer alike.

Winters were spent in a small gym where we worked on a range of activities. Monday nights, 6pm to 8pm. In summer we moved outdoors, playing with orange "wind balls" which replicated the bounce of a cricket ball (if not the feel of one off the bat) on the blaes pitches at the school. For the uninitiated, blaes is red ash, common in Scotland and we played and practised on one because the school had no grass. All of our fixtures had perforce to be away from home and, in the absence of cricket from the state school curriculum, or at that time a school minibus, we had to travel all over the country to play public schools. These were mainly in Glasgow and the west, though a few were in the east and towards the borders. All of them needed parents who were willing to take a car, an afternoon off work, sometimes a whole day.

The parents of these boys did it, without complaint and without anything in return other than my gratitude and seeing their children perform and interact in different environments. The reward, perhaps five years later, for seven families was when their sons were chosen in a Glasgow state schools select side to play against a Public School XI. Seven boys from one school was an achievement and each boy's parents attended the match, played on a blustery afternoon. The game ended in a draw, two of our boys at the wicket when stumps were drawn, having competed very well against others who had the advantage of "proper" facilities.

It opened their eyes too. By the time we finished we were beating most of these sides. "Do you think we can still win?" said one father after we'd been bowled out for 102 at a top Glasgow school one afternoon. "Their cricket master just told me their opening pair put on 150 against Loretto last week..."

"Not against Neil and John they didn't" I said, confident in the two opening bowlers at our disposal. Two hours later Neil, tall and quick and John, small but with a lovely outswinger, had bowled them out for 46, aided by the spin of brothers Ashley and Darren. Two of the mums were in tears, the rest looked so proud they could have burst at any moment. David's dad never stopped grinning, still recalling the arrow-like throw from deep point that ran out a batsman who didn't want to be on strike, thanks very much.

"He used to throw stones into the water at Helensburgh" he told me. "Couldn't believe how far he could throw it, even when he was ten". Nor could I, which was why he was a deadly weapon in the deep. Not many games passed without a run out. In a school context, David and Alan, his brother, on either side of the wicket was like having Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs in your side.

They didn't all stick at the game when they left school. Four became good club players, one played for Scotland B and two subsequently started teams at their own schools when they took up teaching careers. Neil stopped enjoying it when the club he played for told him to bowl slower and straighter, a tragedy when he was one of the quickest (if sometimes erratic) schoolboy bowlers I have seen. That is life for you, that some manage, through sheer talent or determination, aided by a liberal sprinkling of luck at the right time, to make it. Others don't quite get there but still enjoy the experience along the way.

So it will be with the Derbyshire Academy. It has already produced some talented players and will  produce more in the coming years. With top coaches at the helm and excellent facilities the boys (and girls) have every opportunity to succeed.

Just keep in mind the fact that those parents are pretty important too.

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