Guest writer Richard Clark tells the story of two dramatically different seasons for Worcestershire Under 13s…
As any parent will tell you, watching your children progress and learn in sport can be frustrating and rewarding in – give or take – equal measure, so I don’t make any great claims for the following tale to be in any way “special”. It’s nothing more than a personal look back on two years in the evolution of a County Under 13 team. And I suspect it will resonate with many parents up and down the country.
This is the tale of Worcestershire Under 13s – my daughter’s mob – and it’s a tale of two distinctly different summers. Such, I suspect, is often the nature of girls’ county cricket, with the two-year cycle meaning teams are often at different stages in their evolution. Half the team changes every season, and with it, for good or bad, the whole character, let alone ability level, of a team can fluctuate wildly.
To say that for the Under 13 girls of Worcestershire 2015 was not especially kind would be something of an understatement. Defeat followed flattening defeat, with the first three games disappearing out of sight to the tune of eight wickets, eight wickets and seven wickets respectively. As is probably inevitable where youngsters are concerned, spirits sagged, enthusiasm waned and confidence drained away.
Perhaps a chance to bowl first might have brought about a change in fortune? It didn’t. At Hagley, Devon racked up the small matter of 243 for 3, in reply to which we accumulated 20 – with nine runs from six scoring shots off the bat. In the following match, Herefordshire rolled us over for 35. They then beat us again a week later. Six defeats from six.
None of this is to denigrate the efforts of the girls. It’s just that, particularly with youngsters, once confidence and belief has gone there is little that can be done. Some of those games were lost before the coin went up. They wanted to win. They just never believed they could.
When Dorset came calling in August, posting 94, a seventh defeat loomed large. 95 to win may not seem like much, but it was more than we had scored in any innings to that point. But then a funny thing happened – our girls batted sensibly, maturely, calmly, and picked off the runs. There was no block, prod, panic, swipe, clatter, as had been the case all too often previously; just a well-paced knocking off of the runs with eight overs to spare. It was so completely out of the blue that I’m not sure I believe it even now. This wasn’t so much pennies dropping as hitting the jackpot in Vegas.
And there, just as a ray of light appeared at the end of a very long tunnel, the season ended, any thought of “momentum” dashed. But still, whatever happened next, we’d always have Droitwich…
Part two of our tale actually begins shortly before part one ends, if that makes any sense. With morale in tatters, and the squad often unable to muster 11 players, a number of promising under 11s had been drafted in towards the end of the season. Whether by accident or design it proved to be a boon, lifting spirits a little, and probably, with hindsight, playing no small part in that solitary victory. It was a little glimpse of what was to come.
The instant winter training began – and I mean the instant – the difference hit you between the eyes. Training was fun, the new girls clicked with those remaining from the previous season immediately. Again this is not a criticism of those who had moved on – more a reflection of the fact that some groups just work, whilst others don’t. It’s not a cricketing thing, or even a sporting thing, it’s life. But in a sports team it can make a huge difference.
But of course, they still had to go and play cricket – the acid test. All the team spirit and fun in the world can only get you so far if you keep being bowled out for 20s and 30s.
The first game at home to Dorset was akin to an epiphany. Our first individual half century, our first fifty partnership, and a score of 184 (after being 82-6 at one stage). Almost double anything achieved the previous season. Backed up by a solid bowling display, it added up to a 124-run win. A good start.
And yet… The next game, against Cornwall, saw a wobble. From 39-2 we stuttered to 68 all out and lost by 8 wickets. The hope – or fear – was that one of these results was a blip. The trouble was, we didn’t know which one.
Wiltshire away didn’t really provide an answer either way, but it did produce the best match of the season – a low scoring thriller. The home side were dismissed for 74 (including our first five-fer), but it looked as though we’d cooked our goose at 55-8. Our half-centurion from the Dorset game wasn’t having that, though, inching her way to 16 not out as nos. 10 and 11 held firm at the other end. A win, by one wicket maybe, but a win nonetheless, and one we would not have pulled off the previous season.
A brief pause here – this thing about pennies dropping. Every game has seen one player or another “put her hand up”. Of the squad of fifteen, the majority have, at some stage, played an important part in setting up, turning round, or finishing off a match. It may only be small things, but they add up over time. It’s as though you can see the cogs whirring, the building blocks going up one-by-one to turn these girls into decent cricketers – and by that I don’t just mean batters and bowlers, but thinking cricketers. Nobody would have had it in them to score 16 not out and haul us through that match last season. In the context of that game, that situation, it was one of the finest innings I have ever seen.
The “World Tour of Dorset and Cornwall” was always going to be a highlight. Dorset were beaten again, but Cornwall held on by 12 runs at Helston to achieve a double, even though we had our third “Michelle” in three games, all from different bowlers. If I wanted to make excuses, maybe the intensity and excesses of the tour lifestyle proved too much for our girls. On the other hand, it was tremendous fun, and sometimes that’s worth more than any win or loss.
Since then there have been resounding wins against Herefordshire and Wiltshire. Against Herefordshire we upped our collective highest score to 208-6, and our individual best to 75, as well as raising our first 100 partnership. It also saw one of our openers undefeated for the second game running – 70 overs all told. Again, all of these things unthinkable a year ago – pennies dropping all the time.
Another example – my own daughter. I dislike reliance on stats but after taking 2 for 103 off 18 overs last season, it’s fair to say she’s slightly happier with 16 for 54 off 31 overs (including two Under 15 games) this season. It’s no accident – she’s listened, learned and gained confidence.
In the Wiltshire game our sixth different player of the season passed 30 in an innings. Again, we recovered from 80-5 to score 167 and win by over 100 runs. With only Herefordshire to come we have five wins out of seven. Oh, and the bulk of the squad earned five wins out of five during their three days at the Malvern Festival.
I said at the start that this was no “special” tale, and it isn’t. I have no experience of Under 13 girls’ cricket in other parts of the country, but I suspect our Division isn’t perhaps the strongest – and I don’t mean that disparagingly. It’s entirely possible that one or two counties are in the position we were last season, and that they will come good next year. Maybe we are a strong (ish) fish in a weak (ish) pond. If you like, that is the moral of the story – progress will come in all shapes and sizes, and at various different rates, but come it will.