As we are now all au fait with pub quizzes, here’s one for you.. What do these cricketers all have in common?
Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Alastair Cook, Alex Tudor, Kabir Ali, Michael Carberry, Graeme Swann, Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan, Dom Sibley, Ollie Pope & Sam Curran
It is a rare old list, including England captains and World Cup winners. The easy answer is that all these cricketers have played for England. The less obvious answer is that they all played in a very special cricket festival at some beautiful location around the UK when they were 15 years of age.
This summer, the top U15 cricketers identified through school, district and county cricket in the North, Midlands, London & East and South & West were all due to congregate on the south coast of England at Eastbourne College for the annual ECB David English Bunbury Festival. In a competitive week of 50 and 20 over matches, the cricket is definitely the centrepiece, but the socialising, Bunbury BBQ, life-long friendships made and annual Nandos trip with ‘The Bunfather’, founder, Dr David English, are the stuff of Bunbury legend.
The Festival is in its 34th year in 2020, with Ollie Pope & Dom Sibley being among the most recent Bunbury Alumni to gain selection in the England Test side. The list above highlights only some of the success stories, with over 90 Bunbarians having gone on to play for England having once featured in the Bunbury Festival. Sadly, due to COVID-19, the ECB announced recently that, among other ECB competitions, the 34th Bunbury Festival would need to be cancelled. ‘Cancelled!?’ I hear you ask. The single most proven, consistent and reliable source of future England cricketers? Year in, year out, thanks to ESCA, David English and more recently ECB, the Bunbury Festival produces many players who go on to play county cricket, with a steady trickle drip feeding into the England set up who subsequently go on to receive a full England cap later in their careers.
With 10 of the 11 England players, who won the 2019 Cricket World Cup at Lord’s, graduating from their respective Bunbury Festivals, the impact that this ECB U15 competition has on the future of the England game cannot be understated. Jim White, writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2016, identified The Bunbury Festival as possibly ‘The Secret of England’s Success’, whilst Millfield School, who hosted the festival in 2018 described the Festival as a rite of passage for future England players.
It is not an insignificant fact that this moment in their young careers is the first time the boys will have had the opportunity to compare themselves nationally, to find out where they sit in the pecking order. Yes, the Bunbury Festival is but one step in the ECB pathway and opportunities for them will come again. For example, at U17, the best players meet in Loughborough for the Super 4s competition, leading to possible selection for the Young Lions, but the U15 Bunbury experience is one I feel is of significant value.
The 2020 U15 cohort should not miss their opportunity to show what they can do in the company of some of the most talented U15 players in the country. Whilst I recognise there is no way this festival can be played safely during the summer of 2020, I believe there is a compelling case for it to be played in 2021 as a one off U16 festival, either alongside or either side of the 35th U15 Bunbury Festival. Presumably the ECB had budgeted for this year’s festival to go ahead at Eastbourne College, and therefore this money should be ring-fenced for twelve months to allow these boys to go and have their day in the sun, ensuring young players do not slip under the radar or miss out on a once in a lifetime experience.
I understand this will place a significant pressure on the organisers and coaches. However, I feel there is an opportunity not to be missed here to ensure the most incredible festival and junior cricketing & life experience is allowed to continue to run, doing its job in identifying the future stars of England cricket. Whilst a trip to Nando’s for a 15 year old boy is probably less of a treat these days, it remains part of an experience that should not be denied the class of 2020.
Patrick Latham & Wesley Durston both ex-Somerset CCC cricketers, write for www.aleadingedge.co.uk and have released four books now available on Amazon.co.uk. ‘The Ashes Illustrated’ is detailed in a daily illustrated diary containing over 50 cartoons and caricatures telling the story of The Ashes Series of 2019. Leadership, management and understanding of the game of cricket is covered in ‘A Leading Edge for Captains’. Also available are two game books, Dice Sports and Dice Cricket.