17 all out was something of a low point for the school under-15 cricket team. Mr. Mace the geography teacher, who doubled as an alleged cricket coach, was not greatly amused. Irresponsible batting, he said sternly, his eyes fixed on the number-three batsman and team captain. True, I had missed the ball, but the intent had been good; attempting to hit the fastest bowler on the Surrey schools cricket circuit back over his head before I had even scored.
As school sporting nadirs went it was about as bad as the defeat for the rugby XV when it played its first match after having been revived following a four-year hiatus. It started to become clear why the rugby team had previously been scrapped. It also became clear when we saw the opposition for that first game get off their coach that we were all about to die. The Army's Junior Leaders. The score would have been worse than 102-0 had the whistle for full time not been blown a good five minutes before it should have been.
But sporting embarrassments have to be placed in context. New Zealand once beat Portugal 108-13 in the Rugby World Cup and the other day Essex were bowled out for 20. Admittedly, both performances represent an improvement on my school's disasters (Portugal actually scored) but they go to show, as always, that it's not the taking part that matters, it's the losing.
How misfortunes change. Thirty years ago Essex skittled out Surrey for 14, so clearly the development of Surrey schools cricketers of the early 1970s had filtered through to the benefit of Surrey CCC. But how can one explain such a reverse in fortunes? One factor that is generally overlooked in any analysis of English cricket is the harmful influence of the foreign holiday, that to Mallorca in particular. Why? Tides. Tides and sand. It is impossible to have a decent game of beach cricket in Mallorca.
Back in the '70s and '80s, people still went to British seaside resorts and so they still put stumps in hard sand, were able to extract decent bounce off a short length with a tennis ball and were also able to demonstrate the art of the hook or pull shot even if this didn't result in a boundary. That was because the boundary, the sea, had disappeared halfway to Belgium or France. Once everyone started going "foreign" and heading off to destinations without miles upon miles of dirty, muddy, hardening sand, cricket lost one of its great learning grounds. In fact, it lost loads of them. Just as county cricket is no longer played at the likes of Clacton or Southend, so cricket is no longer played on the beaches, because everyone's gone to Mallorca and is playing beach paddle tennis instead. Essex CCC, deprived of a once thriving beach cricket tradition, can look forward to more 20 all outs, I'd wager.
It is sad that Essex should lose out to an island with which it has a great deal in common. Well, one great thing at any rate. Its size. When people ask me, as you can imagine that they often do, how big Mallorca is, I tell them that it is more or less the same size as Essex. And it is, give or take around 30 square kilometres. It may not be immediately obvious that their sizes are comparable, given that Essex has other stuff around it like London, but plonk Mallorca on top of Essex, bend it around a bit and lo and behold, Mallorca is Essex. Or vice versa.
In truth, size is about all that Essex has in common with Mallorca. Clacton isn't Cala Millor and Southend isn't Sa Coma. Essex also doesn't have any mountain ranges, but what it does have is its only way. Yet, when it came to the producers of "The Only Way Is Essex" choosing a location for the programme's holiday specials, they opted for Marbella and not Mallorca. Strange decision. If Mallorca can have Stacey Dooley and "Geordie Shore", it would love to have "The Only Way Is Essex" as well. As most of Essex appears to be in Mallorca at any given time, the decision appears even stranger.
The only reason I can think of for Mallorca not having been chosen is the embarrassment of that 20 all out and some form of punishment for why it came about and so the ruination of Essex cricket forever through the shipping of former beach cricketers en masse to Mallorca. Marbella, though, is surely equally to blame for the declining fortunes of Essex cricket. It's a pretty thin excuse and one that disguises the fact that Essex are simply useless. Rather like, it saddens me to have to admit, a certain under-15 school cricket team.
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