The Elite Sport of Cricket

By Henderson, Michael | The Spectator, January 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Elite Sport of Cricket


Henderson, Michael, The Spectator


The England team may be riding high, but state schools have all but abandoned cricket

England's cricketers won a remarkable Test match inside three days in the bearpit of Johannesburg, a victory that put them 2-0 up in the four-match series, with only the final Test to play. It is a remarkable achievement by Alastair Cook's team because, before a ball had been bowled, most judges expected South Africa, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, to claim another triumph by right.

In particular it was a wonderful tribute to the public schools which sharpened the skills of the star players. Stuart Broad, who took six prime wickets for only 17 runs on that tumultuous third day, reducing South Africa's second innings to rubble, was educated at Oakham. Joe Root, who scored a superb century to set up the bowlers, was a sixth-former at Worksop College. Jonny Bairstow, who held nine catches in the match behind the stumps, attended St Peter's York, and James 'Titch' Taylor, who held two remark-able catches at short leg, went to Shrewsbury.

Cook, who has made more Test runs for England than anybody, and who has now led England to victory in South Africa as well as India, spent his schooldays at Bedford. Poor old Nick Compton had to make do with Harrow, 'the dump on the hump'. And there to report on proceedings was the BBC cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, an Uppingham old boy, supported by the evergreen 'Blowers', Henry Calthorpe Blofeld, who polished his vowels at Eton.

Nor does the public-school influence end at the boundary ropes. Andrew Strauss, Cook's predecessor as captain, was appointed director of cricket by the England and Wales Cricket Board last year, and Strauss is a Radley man. As the Oxfordshire school also educated the great Ted Dexter ('Lord Ted') 60 years ago, they have certainly done their bit for the summer game.

English cricket has been adorned, if not completely dominated, by public schoolboys for as long as batsmen have faced bowlers. C.B. Fry, the finest all-round sportsman this country has produced, went to Repton before Oxford University. The Albanians offered Fry the crown of their kingdom but he refused it, saying it was 'a damn bore'. Mind you, he went on, 'had I accepted it, the Italian invasion would never have happened. There would have been county cricket, and nobody would have dared to invade Albania with county cricket being played. The Royal Navy would have been obliged to intervene!'

Douglas Jardine, the England captain whose 'bodyline' strategy (vicious fast and short bowling) in Australia in 1932-33 almost led to a diplomatic breach between the countries, learned his cricket at Winchester. After the war the finest batsmen continued to come: Peter May (Charterhouse), Colin Cowdrey (Tonbridge), M.J.K. Smith (Stamford), and David Gower (King's, Canterbury). Of recent captains Michael Atherton was a bright boy at Manchester Grammar School, and Nasser Hussain went to Forest School in east London. …

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