The Franklyn Stephenson Academy (FSA) concluded its recent inaugural tour to the United Kingdom with the Under-11s finishing second in their section of the West Cricket Festival played at the King’s College School Grounds in Taunton, Somerset.
The Under-15s who previously travelled and played in Taunton, Cornwall and Devon, moved on to Suffolk and London along with the Under-11s following their participation in the festival to complete their touring schedule.
In the 10th edition of the West Cricket Festival, the Under-11s were drawn in a pool including a representative ICC Academy team, Wales and the tournament favourites Yorkshire, who had not lost a fixture for two seasons. That the FSA needed a single wicket in the last over of their final round fixture to secure the title was a credit to their preparation and competence.
The Buckinghamshire last wicket pair tenaciously defended the final over to hold on at 111 for 9 after the allotted 30 overs, chasing 150. That over was watched by all and sundry at the festival with the FSA requiring full bowling points to secure the title. They were left to rue the rain abandoned fixture against Yorkshire with the favourites precariously placed at 102 for 7 after 26 overs, as well as an earlier loss to Wales by 5 wickets in a sub-par opening round performance.
That victory ultimately secured the Welsh their first title as they won their low scoring final round encounter against Yorkshire. Those matches apart, there were comfortable victories for the FSA Under-11s against Devon and Middlesex.
The Under-11s travelled and played well and their were several outstanding performances including those from Jaden Leacock, Che Simmons, Jayden Roberts, Jacob Bethell and the Nevis- based Carleon Tuckett, son of former Leeward Islands and West Indies One-Day player, Carl Tuckett. All-rounder Bethell had the distinction of being included in the festival’s 2015 Hall of Fame for his bowling performance of 5 for 21 off 9 overs versus Devon.
Once the teams left Somerset and headed east the remainder of the tour was severely hampered by rain. In fact the Under 11s did not play their final two scheduled fixtures – against the Essex U11s at the Royal Hospital School Grounds in Halbrook, Suffolk and against the London Schools’ Association XI scheduled for The Walker Cricket Ground, Southgate, London.
The Under-15s were at least able to bat for 40 overs against the Suffolk U17 Invitational XI on a cold Sunday at the beautiful RHS grounds before the heavens finally opened up to torrential rains. The FSA score of 176 all out in 42.5 overs was based on a wonderful 57 off 99 balls from opening batsman Azan Holligan who shared an opening partnership of 44 in 8.4 overs with Tauron Gibson, both enjoying their most fluent batting performances on tour.
Gibson made 19 off 26 balls and following his dismissal and that of captain Marc Cyrus who added a further 39 with Holligan in 8 overs, the innings went into a steady decline though there were further useful contributions from all-rounder Jaden Edmund, 15 off 24 balls with 3 fours and Jaden Leacock 13 off 42 balls. The 11-year old Leacock was making his debut at this level and although he took 24 balls batting at number 5 to get off the mark, his innings was one of composure that showcased an ability above his age.
The following day, the scheduled match against the Essex U15s at RHS commenced on time following a wonderful effort from the ground staff. Unfortunately, that match lasted a mere 3.2 overs with the home team on 23 without loss with their opening batsmen Vinod Lint on 15 not out having taken on opening bowler Ajani Batson with pulled sixes from consecutive short balls in the day’s third over. Fellow new ball bowler Jaden Edmund was enjoying the wicket and conditions in his almost over and a half where he consistently beat the bat with good pace and late swing as evidenced by his seven-two field reminiscent of West Indies Test Cricket bowling of another era.
Outside of the cricket, one of the highlights of the Suffolk trip was an unscheduled appearance by England’s most recent international player and a Royal Hospital School graduate, the Essex left-arm seamer Reece Topley. Following the aborted matches on Sunday, the teams later assembled in the Chapel of the RHS for Evening Mass.
The anticipated matches in London did not materialize but this was more that compensated when the tour management was able to secure an hour and half net session at the Marylebone Cricket Club Academy at the historic Lords Cricket Ground. This was a thrilling occasion for the boys and added to their knowledge having previously visited the Somerset County Cricket Club while in Taunton, during their Division 1 Country match against Worcestershire.
The Under 15s will reflect on the varying playing surfaces and climatic conditions along with the wonderful facilities for playing cricket in the UK, both at the school and local club level, alongside the two nights spent living with families in Cornwall.
As with their junior colleagues there were several solid individual performances and the team performed creditably with a single loss on tour. The bating was led as expected by senior players Nyeem Young and Cyrus, but the performances of Holligan, Gibson and Demetrius Richards offered much hope for the future.
The bowling was always competitive, but the standout was undoubtedly Jaden Edmund while there was enough evidence to suggest that the young spinners Renacko Belgrave and Aaron Roberts are ones to watch.
Thirty-one boys participated in the developmental cricket tour. (PR)