On a fine Friday evening at Horntye Park, the green turf bathed in midsummer sun,  there’s a gathering of  kids that would do credit to some waste ground in Karachi or Kolkata: more than 60 from age five upwards – the majority boys, but plenty of girls too – swinging bats, hurling balls, chasing across the field. Who says that English cricket is dying?

The car park is full to over-brimming. Immediately outside the pavilion a battalion of 25 or more, aged between five and eight, all wearing the smart blue ECB All Star shirts are lined up, learning to catch. Enthusiasm is more prevalent than consistent attainment, but it’s early days in a career that could last much of a lifetime. Parents, few of whom ever played cricket themselves beyond the odd taster at school, are ranged around the boundary in support. At the far end of the ground beyond the scoreboard another group numbering 20 to 25, a little older or at least more experienced, are in the nets, batting or bowling  –  the younger ones playing with a soft ball, the older with a proper cricket ball. Out in the middle an additional roll on cricket net has been set up for a number of under 16s to get some practice in. Later in the evening there will be a session for the ladies team (see match report below).

It is the local Hastings & St Leonards Priory club which, with some financial support out of Hastings Opportunity Area funds, is bringing these disparate ages and abilities together under its banner. Adam ‘Spud’ Page, who is overseeing the most junior group but also runs the under-13s team, is a full-time coach employed by the Sussex Cricket Foundation to promote “community cricket”. They include club chairman John Morgan, who moves among the parents addressing overall management responsibilities, and Piers Cowley, a parent who runs the under-16 Priory team.

That latter team will play matches only through July and August: earlier in the summer, school pressures – in particular, the demands of GCSE exams – take priority, while the more committed players of that age will already be turning out on a Saturday for the club’s second or third team in adult leagues. But there have been soft ball tournaments on recent Sundays at Hailsham, Bexhill and at Crowhurst Park, with a Hastings tournament on Sunday 7th July, mainly aimed at under 10s, while the under-13s have been in competitive action on a T20 format, winning recently in a close contest against Heathfield Park.  The club are also running a Friday Fun evening to celebrate the Cricket World Cup next Friday 5th July at Horntye.

In 2018, for the first time in many years, Priory were not able to field a team in any age group of the Sussex Junior Cricket Festival because there were no adults available to devote a full week of hands-on management. However, Spud Page will be available this year to run the under-13s (in the week beginning 12th August) if there are sufficient numbers not themselves away on holiday.

In the meantime he is funded to take cricket into local primary schools on a weekly basis. However, that’s the extent of state school involvement these days. None of the secondary academies in this corner of East Sussex runs a school team or provides any other form of competitive cricket for their pupils. 

Of the current Priory first team squad, four – Elliot Hooper, Joe Billings, Ryan Hoadley and Harry Scowen – learnt their cricket at Bede’s, the private school outside Hailsham which coaches several sports to a high level. Some older players, like John Morgan, attended William Parker at a time when cricket was still on its curriculum. But these days, if juniors don’t find their way to a club pretty soon, they are likely to be lost to the sport forever. Priory are well aware.

Hastings & St Leonards Priory CC will also be running summer camps over the weeks of 5th-9thAugust and 12th-16th August at Horntye from 9.00am to 12.00pm, supported by Hastings Opportunity Area. 

More information will be available on the club’s website  www.hastingspriory.com and on social media platforms very shortly.

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