By Anuj Srivastav
With the 2022 Cricket Season fast approaching, the Hampton School First XI are looking to improve on their performances during the previous year. They played a total of 17 games in the 2021 season, winning 13 games, losing 3 (with one match cancelled), and crucially reaching the quarter-finals of the National T20 Cup. Having discussed with Kyle Seth (First XI off-spinner, who began training with the team when he was in Fourth Year) and Mr Jim Parrish (First XI Coach), there were many areas of success from the previous season and improvements for the upcoming season that will be key if the team wish to make further progress in the T20 Cup.
Over the past few years, Hampton School Cricket has produced many fantastic and talented players such as Blake Cullen (a right-arm fast bowler), who is presently playing professionally for Middlesex CCC (where he made his First-Class debut in August 2020) and in the Hundred. Cullen also played for England U19 during the U19 World Cup 2020 where he performed exceptionally. Tanmay Thanawalla and Denil Manuel were two more outstanding cricketers who played for the First XI. Thanawalla was a wicketkeeper-batsman who scored consistent centuries for the team and, in 2021, he became the highest run-scorer in school cricket across the country. He is currently playing for Richmond CC First XI. Similarly, Manuel was also a wicketkeeper-batsman and he has the skill and ability to play at a high standard of cricket, due to his many match-winning performances. Such successful players have been coached and trained by Mr Chris Harrison and Mr Ami Banerjee; therefore, lots of credit must be given to them for their hard work in helping shape such outstanding cricketers.
During the upcoming season, Thanawalla’s runs and expertise will be missed, but newer players will look to follow in his footsteps, such as Eddie Bruce and Arjun Bhat, who have the potential to create high scores at the top of the scorecard. In terms of bowling, Alex Zotov and Alfie Simonds-Gooding can cause damage to the opposition’s opening pair with the new ball and spinners Kyle Seth and Will Knowles will certainly prove useful throughout the season. The First XI has a strong team leading into the upcoming season, with their goal being to defeat their rivals and progress further in the National T20 Cup.
There were some stand-out moments over the course of the 2021 season, with a highlight being the T20 encounter against Emmanuel School where Hampton broke the record for the largest batting total made in a T20 for the School. A fantastic hundred was made by Thanawalla, and Matt Avant-Smith also made a fast-paced fifty, leading the team to a monstrous score of 253 for 1 in 20 overs. Hampton then proceeded to savagely rip through the Emmanuel batting line-up, winning by a total of 202 runs, with the opposition all out for only 51.
A series of tight matches took place during 2021, which proved to be extremely testing for the team. One example was a 50-over game against Whitgift, a bitter rival for many years. The pitch was suited for batting, and after losing the toss, the First XI were put into the field, with a tough battle to restrict the Whitgift batsmen ahead. The opening ten overs fell Whitgift’s way, as Hampton were unable to break through the openers, who racked up 60 runs. A gamechanger was required and it came in the form of the spinners. With the combination of spin from both ends, the First XI were able to reduce Whitgift to a chaseable score of 216. As the Hampton openers made their way to the pitch, they realised that their target required resilience and determination. However, a swift top-order collapse hampered the chase, and despite the middle order chipping in, Hampton fell just short of the target set, achieving 208. Even though the result of the game was not ideal for Hampton, the competitive atmosphere and brand of cricket being played were second to none.
Throughout the 2021 season, the team’s ethos and spirit were truly special as each player in the squad believed in each other’s ability, whilst empathizing and compensating for teammates’ inevitable off-days. The fielding too was a stand-out area for the First XI as very few catches were dropped and few runs were leaked, making it difficult for the opposition to build a platform to score runs off.
Over the past few seasons, there have been many rivals for the First XI, and similarly, during the upcoming season, they will have to face these teams once again. Schools such as Whitgift, Eton and Harrow are the key targets for the team, requiring Hampton to be on top of their game. There are a lot of county connections between Hampton and Whitgift especially, meaning that it can become slightly heated between both sides and exchanges between opposing players are common, with each team hoping that they can vanquish a long-time foe. Other rivals such as Eton and Harrow rely on Upper Sixth boys more than players from lower down the school, leading to strong, mature sides. As such one can expect Eton, Harrow and Whitgift to be strong each year.
The 2021 season was strong for the First XI, with them reaching the quarter-finals of the National T20 Cup, unfortunately losing to a strong Tonbridge side. They managed to maintain an eight-game winning run, including the crushing victory against Emmanuel as described above. However, the previous season was not perfect, and there are plenty of areas in which advancements can be made.
To this end, improvements are planned to encourage batsmen to occupy the crease for longer periods under harsher conditions, thus building a solid base for runs to be scored quickly in the latter stages of the game. Mr Parrish expressed how he would rather witness a hard-fought, resilient, and grit-filled 70, than a an attractive 25 or 30, as these large scores keep the team in the game, allowing other batters to bat around this player and increase the run rate so that a high score can be made. This is an area where the First XI must improve upon, as in important games against stronger sides, such batsmen are needed to win games regularly.
For the Lower School and Lower Sixth cricketers who are looking to make it into the First XI, here is some advice as to how to prepare and train, suggested by both Mr Parrish and Kyle Seth: on a global level, there is an excess of emphasis on T20 and short-format cricket, and it is easy to get confused and misdirected by trying to adapt to all the new, innovative cricket shots that can be seen on our TV screens. In the midst of this, it is key to keep returning to the basics and using the fundamentals as a platform, to improve your game. Basic, yet crucial, shots such as the forward and backward defensive, are core skills that you learn as soon as you lift a cricket bat for the first time and can serve a batsman well throughout their career.
An invaluable, yet possible cliché, part of playing the game is actually enjoying oneself. A lot of young cricketers, when they have a poor day on the field, become pessimistic, putting their heads down and getting frustrated, causing a ripple effect across the entire team. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that young players try to keep their mind in the moment, such as watching the ball, or where you are going to bowl the ball. Doing this can, in turn, contribute to the enjoyment of the game, as one will not be anxious as to what the result of your actions may be or what other people think of you/your game.
The coaches, Mr Harrison and Mr Banerjee, provide extremely valuable advice about your game: your strengths, but also your weaknesses. These can be worked on in practice sessions, with the aim to improve your cricket. It is key to communicate as much as you can with the coaches, tapping into their wealth of knowledge about the game.
The 2022 First XI Season awaits; it will inevitably be unforgettable. Equipped with an extremely strong team and fantastic coaches, the team will be searching for further success to bolster the prestige and accomplishments of the Hampton School Cricket Programme.