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First Ball Academy vs ACE (24. 05.2023)

In 2022 we played ACE (African Caribbean Engagement) in a U15, T20 match. Despite fielding a U17 player that went on to score a century we still prevailed with overs to spare. We knew for this annual fixture in 2023, ACE would come hard, however, we were not prepared for what unfolded.

Context: The parameters of the friendly match were agreed upon by email several months prior and reconfirmed a week before the match. ACE where informed FBA’s team would be a mashup of 13-15-year-olds.

Match Day:

Upon arrival at the ground’s car park, I was greeted by six FBA team members, they said, coach have you seen the size of the ACE players? I replied no, I’ve just got here. As we walked through the gates I glanced over to where the ACE team congregated, the boys were right, the ACE team appeared from a distance to be older. Sensing the player's nerves, I instructed all of the FBA team to the changing rooms. The match was due to start at 6 pm and started around 6.30 pm as a result of having to calm the boys down for fifteen minutes.

ACE won the toss and elected to bat first, the openers, one afro Caribbean and the other an Afghani man entered the square without helmets which was an indication they were both over 18. As one of the umpires I asked the Afghani opener how old he was, he replied, 21! ACE’s total after 20 over was 230 runs. With all top four batsmen retiring at 50. Let me clarify, all four MEN!

At the halfway stage I considered calling the match off! This from ACE was a preordained decision to bring a team of predominate men, knowing full well the opposition were boys. I have a duty of care to ensure juniors are safeguarded properly, If I had the heads up that this was a mismatch, I would have cancelled the game in an instant.

With 18 overs gone and the light fading, I called a halt to proceedings. I approached Chevy Green and asked for his thoughts on the match, he replied and I quote, one-sided. I then asked, what was the value in a one-sided match? Chevy replied, I know some of your players, they were fine, they just need to improve on their fielding.

After the match and subsequent messages from FBA parents and those watching on the sidelines. The theme was the same, what the hell was that? What is the point of putting our boys in harm’s way, how will this match enhance their experience of cricket?

FBA was established in 2020, and 99% of the membership is made up of state school kids, of that, 98% of Asian background. In the last year and a half, we’ve had an influx of asylum-seeking Afghani boys, and for some, the ACE match represented their first match. Post-match I consoled the individuals who were most affected by the experience. Reminding them that despite the age difference, they did themselves and the academy proud.

Why am I writing this? This is not cricket! For the ECB-backed ACE to think it’s ok to play men against boys win at all costs scenario is flawed. In junior cricket, there are age restrictions for a reason. Safeguarding, health and safety and ensuring each child has a positive experience, whilst building confidence and skills in preparation for greater challenges on the field of play.



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