It’s Not Quite Cricket: Eversfield Sport in the Time of Coronavirus

This term at Eversfield, it has not been quite cricket as we know it but, thanks to the hard work and creative thinking of Mr Sliney and his team, we have come impressively close. I was surprised to learn recently that some independent schools have furloughed their games staff during the coronavirus crisis. Not Eversfield! I mean, could you even begin to imagine a world without Mr Leonard? I thought not! We decided that sport is so fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our children that we simply had to find some way of maintaining its status on the curriculum.

It’s quite a feat to replicate any school lesson for home learning but Games and PE present their own particular set of challenges for teachers. In Games, to play a sport well requires precision practise of a series of different skills and, for this reason, with children from Form 2 upwards, Mr Sliney decided to focus on cricket. He and Mr Leonard then set about making videos, each illustrating an individual skill. Tasks ranged from Overarm Retrieve and Throw and Overarm Kneel Throw in Form 2, through Underarm Moving Ball Pick Up and the intriguingly named Eat the Apple, Pull the String activity in Form 3, to Backlift Stump Strike and Combo Catch and Throw in Form 4. These are exactly the sort of skills that children would be working on during the normal flow of a lesson, and there is a clear element of progression in the structure, based on what the pupils will have covered in previous years. However, even though she was new to the school this year, Lily from Form 5 was delighted to notice an improvement in her skill level following the lessons. In fact, so good are the videos produced by Mr Sliney and Mr Leonard that a local cricket club has requested permission to use them to help train their players.

Sadly, all the videos in the world can’t get around the fact that cricket is a team game and, as children from Forms 5 and 6 commented after their return to school, playing sport at home only served to remind them how much they were missing their friends. For Karan in Form 5, it took away the competitive element of cricket, depriving him of the opportunity to push himself against his classmates. Excellent as the videos are, it has still been quite tricky to remember the skill accurately enough to perform it in your back garden and it hasn’t been practical for the children to ask for clarification if they were unsure. For other children, although in some respects it was easier to concentrate on the skills at home, it was difficult to find the required space to work through the activities or to obtain the correct equipment during lockdown. Poor Sania (Form 3) lost her cricket bat when her brother Saif returned to school, though luckily she eventually managed to track down an old one at home.

Despite this, a determined army of Eversfield students have taken to their gardens, their patios, their front drives, even their local parks, this term to practise Mr Sliney’s skills. Freddie, Lincoln and Amy, all from Form 2, worked tirelessly on their throwing, catching and fielding, providing regular video updates, whilst Charles, also of Form 2, recorded his progress by means of written comments. David from Form 4 made a point of noting down where he thought he needed to improve. I’ve had a peep at lots of videos, raising my own skill level in the process. For instance, thanks to Hugo of 2TS, I now know how to hold a cricket ball ready for bowling by making bunny ears with my fingers on either side of the seam.

For many children, it was a family affair. George from Form 5 enjoyed doing the activities with his brothers. Ela (Form 4) practised her bowling against her little brother Rohan, and quite a few parents got involved, too. Laura, also from Form 4, was lucky to have her dad encouraging her with the difficult Backlift Stump Strike activity, in which the aim is to move the bat smoothly between the two outside stumps without touching them. Raina from Form 3 reported that her dad was especially keen to help her with cricket because it reminded him of his teenage years when he was captain of the Stoke-on-Trent Under 15s!

Of course, behind every successful video, is a patient camera operator, a parent generously giving up their time to help and encourage their child and to cheer them on. We are grateful to all of you. In the bowling activities, parents often very bravely put themselves in the line of fire. I am thinking particularly of Luke (Form 4) and the Cone Zone challenge, where Luke was bowling balls to a target on the ground worryingly close to his mum.

As I said earlier, one of the main reasons behind giving a high profile to our games curriculum was to promote health and wellbeing. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and good fitness levels, and pupils at Eversfield appear to be very much aware of that. Many have been pounding pavements and footpaths, walking and running, and going for long rides on their bikes. In fact, I spotted Daniel from Form 6 and his mum setting off for a run early one morning when I was out walking my dog. Saif, also of Form 6, continued with his martial arts training via Zoom whilst Joshua did running and press ups. When restrictions eased a little, Martin (Form 5) took to the hills for some energetic walks. Meanwhile, Max from Form 5 stayed closer to home by doing his walking on the treadmill.

At the end of May, Eversfield held its first (and hopefully its last!)  virtual Sports Day, in which children were given a range of athletic tasks to complete before forwarding their results to Mr Sliney. Upper School House Captains cheered on their fellow pupils via Seesaw and were happily back in school by the time Mr Sliney had totalled the scores, so the trophies could be presented in person in a special ceremony held in the JSB. Honours were even this year, with the Angles taking the trophy in Lower School and the Saxons retaining the cup in Upper School.

After half term, there were some significant changes when Form 6 and subsequently Form 5 returned to Eversfield on a full time basis, along with children at the lower end of the school. Cricket could therefore become more like cricket, albeit with some enhanced safety precautions. Equipment had to be carefully wiped down between different users, and the children have had to stay in their pods for lessons. For this reason, Mr Sliney has focused his teaching on basic skills, avoiding hard balls, as each pod has a wide range of abilities from beginners right through to children who play cricket at county level.

The children themselves can see both pros and cons in these arrangements. HaoHao (Form 5) has welcomed the chance to play sport with a different set of people, whilst Lily has been happy to be in a smaller group and to receive more attention from her teacher. Other children, notably the confident players, have found the mixed ability groups frustrating. Conversely, less experienced players have been alarmed at the speed at which the ball flies towards them. Another issue for some people, such as Caiden and Emilia from Form 6, has been the restricted space in which to work and the impossibility of retrieving stray balls without invading other pods’ pitches.

Now we are approaching the end of term, against all the odds, Mr Sliney has managed to organise Senior House Matches. These are being played behind closed doors within pods as a pairs cricket game. Although this is certainly not cricket as we know it, the arrangement has allowed Mr Sliney to take scores from all of the Angle and Saxon pairs across each pod and to combine them to produce an overall winner. This is a considerable achievement, proving that, where there is sufficient will and determination, coronavirus will never get the better of Eversfield!