It's far from quiet on the Eastern Front
Two of cricket’s outposts in the eastern Netherlands, Nijmegen and Deventer, resounded this week to the sound of bat on ball, shouts of encouragement and bursts of cheering as results became clear, as the remaining two regional tournaments in the inaugural Bilingual Schools Cricket Challenge took place at the grounds of Quick 1888 and Salland CC.
As in the first two tournaments, the learning curve through the day was impressive: youngsters who at the outset had little idea of the principles of the game were by the end thinking about fielding positions, selecting their shots more intelligently, and focusing hard on bowling accurately, while their team-mates were cheering every run, groaning at every wicket, and picking up the finer points of fielding and running between the wickets.
By the conclusion of the Deventer event the four remaining qualifiers for the national finals day on 27 September had been decided. From the South-East Zone the two schools will be the Maasland College from Oss and the Over Betuwe College from Bemmel, while the qualifiers from the North-East Zone were the RSG Noord-Oost Veluwe from Epe and Pius X College from Almelo.
As in the other two zones, the day began with a series of clinics and a short demonstration by the coaching team of how the game is actually played: while the pupils had already learned some of the elements of batting, bowling and fielding in PE lessons in their schools, this was the occasion for putting it all together, and after a fairly miserable Dutch spring the sun shone brightly on both days.
Six schools competed in the South-East Zone on Tuesday, playing in two groups with cross-over finals. The battle in Group A was intense, with three close finishes in which each school won once, and no more than six runs separating the Maasland College from the Stedelijk College, Eindhoven, with the Elde College from Schijndel forming the meat in the sandwich.
It was desperately disappointing for the Eindhoven side, who had beaten Maasland in the final group game only to find themselves third because they had scored the fewest runs.
Over Betuwe College had a rather easier time in Group B, winning both their matches to clinch their place in the final and a trip to the national tournament.
The relative strength of the two groups was confirmed in the play-offs, with Maasland taking the final from Over Betuwe College, Elde College beating Ulenhof College to claim third place overall, and the Stedelijk Lyceum winning against Sondervick College and finishing fifth.
In Deventer on Wednesday, seven participants in the Bilingual Schools Challenge were joined by the Etty Hillesum Lyceum, a traditional Deventer school which has been working on cricket with the host club Salland.
In Group A, the Pius X College narrowly took top spot by virtue of a tied match with the Van der Capellen SG from Zwolle in their final group game, edging out Vincent Van Gogh College, Assen, who also won two matches but lost their opening encounter with Pius X. SG Canisius from Tubbergen came third in the group, with Van der Capellen in fourth place.
Noord-Oost Veluwe were unbeaten in Group B, with the Koninklijke Scholengemeenschap, Apeldoorn finishing second, Etty Hillesum Lyceum third, and the Stedelijk Lyceum, Enschede fourth.
The Epe side then won the final 242-223, with KSG Apeldoorn taking third place overall, SG Canisius fifth, and Etty Hillesum seventh.
The complete list of participants in the national finals day is therefore:
On the evidence of these four tournaments, the Bilingual Schools Challenge has achieved its primary objectives of bringing cricket to a large number of Dutch teenagers who would otherwise never have encountered the sport, and of giving the PE curriculum in a wide range of bilingual schools across the country a distinctively English flavour.
In the process, it has given the pupils a great day in which they learned a huge amount about this complex but profoundly enjoyable game.
‘Hey, guys, we’ve played in a cricket tournament!’ said one of the players proudly as he and his team-mates waited for a train home at Deventer’s Colmschate station. ‘Who else can say that?’
It was a good question, and pupils at schools from Assen to Breda, from Amstelveen to Doetinchem, thoroughly deserve any classroom bragging rights their experience may give them.
But one answer to that question is more than 250 Dutch youngsters who could not have made the claim three weeks ago, and that can be a source of great satisfaction to all those who have helped to make it happen.