Shenfield High School

Overall it has been a hugely successful first year for the newly formed Shenfield Cricket Academy. The first of its kind for a state school, it has given 14 boys and girls an incredible opportunity to develop their cricketing skills. After a full year of training the U’17 and U’18 squads have played over 25 games since the pre-season tour back in April. The U’18 squad have a strong chance of retaining their Essex Cup title when they play Newham Sixth Form in the final. The schools ‘1st X1’ have performed admirably this year beating numerous private schools along the way. National Cup success was unfortunately doused in the early part of the season against three very strong private schools hosted within the picturesque grounds of Felsted School. Further tournament invites were again ushered our way, with the anticipated St Albans T20 tournament a roaring success. The side finished a hugely creditable fourth out of 8 very strong private schools including a South African and Australian touring side. Narrowly finishing runners up in the group, they played hosts St Albans in the 3/4th play-off a side that boasted 6 county players in their ranks. We again travelled to St Joseph’s School, Ipswich to play a very competitive 40 over game in which we ran out winners by 70 runs. In and amongst the private school scalps attention focussed on regaining the Essex Cup and comfortable victories over; New Vic, Barking Abbey and Robert Clack saw the side fly into the final that will be played in September 2014. Throughout the year there has been some stand out performers and unfortunately most of them will fly the nest this year. Key players such as; George Pratt, Alex Rickenbach, Stuart Lewis, Greg Larking and Tommy Oliver have all completed 7 very successful years at the school. Each of them has made a huge contribution to School Cricket and they will leave a void to fill. Nevertheless with 12 new players itching to get started in the Academy a strong squad of 25 will compete for a first X1 spot. This can only enhance the standard and with players such as; Jack Potticary, Haris Mahmood, Ashley Parmenter and David Hickey our chances of success remain high.

Whilst the ‘1st X1’ Cricket was a huge success, the less experienced U’17 squad had a difficult year in which I’m sure they learnt a great deal from. Cricket is a tough game and requires not only huge amounts of skill but ‘Cricket intelligence’ as well. These combined will serve to make not only a successful individual but more importantly a successful team. Such characteristics are crucial, especially when playing against prestigious private schools in competitions such as the National Cup. A second round draw away to a typically strong Bedford School meant we bowed out in the early stages of the National Cup. And an equally tough draw against New Vic Cricket Academy saw us fall in the second round of the Essex Cup in what were pretty terrible cricketing conditions. Despite these setbacks a great deal was learnt by what was a largely young squad. Over half of the team were still in KS3/4 with very little experience of high quality school Cricket. However as a result of this exposure to a higher standard, many of the boys will have learned a great deal.

Within Cricket you are always learning; fielding positions, tactics, batting orders, bowling changes, run rates are all crucial components to be successful. Unlike other sports Cricket is a fast moving game that requires real tactical awareness and an ability to adapt to rapidly changing environments. A perfect example of this is the current England Captain who is still learning and developing his skills at the highest level of the game. So it would be highly unfair and detrimental as a Coach to lambast the younger players for what boils down to a lack of Cricketing experience. This is where I feel the Cricket Academy can really benefit players and give them a greater chance of success at the highest level. School Cricket is so often played to ‘get the fixture complete’, with many schools opting for the minimum amount overs in order to finish the game quickly. However at Shenfield it is quite the opposite and as a result of Garry Sapsford’s years of dedication and passion for the game, our Cricket success rivals that of any other state school in the country. Such an emphasis on success and development only inspires pupils to become the best they can be. I’m sure Matthew Salisbury would be the first to echo such thoughts as School Cricket provided him with the exposure and drive to become the player he is now.  Matthew is just one example of how hard work brings success, left out of the Essex Squads until U’17s School Cricket at Shenfield was crucial to his development. I hope that current and future Academy players will follow the same path of success, if not professionally then through the highest standard of University Cricket. The Academy will look to push such aspirations and help to guide players through the application process with many of the current squad having a real chance of making University 1st elevens. 

In February next year the Academy will embark on a prestigious tour to Cape Town, South Africa. This once in a lifetime experience will provide lifetime cricketing memories and experience that very few young players are afforded. The tour will include 6/7 games of Cricket against some of the best Schools in South Africa. Such an experience will serve as a strong pre-season and give the players a real focus throughout the long winter. As well as this all players will then be invited to tour the South Coast on our annual pre-season tour to Eastbourne. The tour will include 3 games of Cricket against some of the best private schools on the South Coast. It will provide valuable opportunities for players to execute their skills before the hectic school season starts. The training programme will start in their first week back of school, although the squad will meet within the holidays for a friendly against the U’18s in preparation for the Essex Cup Final. Training hours have been increased after the huge amount of progress that has been made this year. A strong focus will be placed on fitness and regular targets will be made to ensure that all are putting in the required hard work. Many conceptions of Cricketers are that they need not be fit and agile, however this couldn’t be further from the truth. All current professional sides place huge importance of being athletic, powerful yet agile. All of these are crucial aspects for success at the highest level and although a positive season, this is one of the main areas for improvement within the Academy next year.  Players will be pushed to get faster, stronger and more agile in timetabled fitness sessions. Players will be expected to maintain and improve their fitness levels out of contact time in a bid to give us an even greater chance of competing at the highest level.

Such high expectations will only increase the level of competition within the squads and push the Academy onto even better things. The overall aim is sustained National Success and building a reputation for developing elite players. As well as providing those with a passion for the game opportunities that they otherwise may not receive. Success isn’t gained overnight; it is achieved through hard work and dedication. Learning will always occur and is the building block for our success, whether it is me as the coach or the players analysing their performances. Understanding and embracing setbacks will ensure success is even more welcomed and deserved. The future looks bright for Shenfield Cricket, not only at the highest level but across the school. Two national finals, three Essex cup finals and three MESSSA finals make for another incredibly successful year.

Long may it continue!

Mr Bennett

Head Coach, Shenfield Cricket Academy.