Nathan Leamon, England’s data analyst, who previously worked as a teacher at a number of private schools, believes that attending an elite school particularly helps budding batters. “With batting, access to good facilities, professional coaching, and good pitches is a huge advantage,” he says.
For teenage cricketers, “I think you do need more practice on the batting front than the bowling,” observes Stuart Welch, the director of cricket at Cranleigh School. “The volume and intensity of practice for batters pre-16 years old appears to be a strong indicator of adult success,” says David Court, the player identification lead for the England and Wales Cricket Board. “This isn’t only deliberate practice as defined in the literature but should include a high volume of play. In my experience there is more opportunity for this practice and play in schools with good facilities and programs, combined with a group of peers who are interested in sports.”
Good pitches produce good batters
As in the 19th century, most pitches at independent schools favor batting. The reverse is often true for the pitches at state schools: a curse for batting but a boon for bowling. This is as much a psychological explanation as anything else: young players tend to develop those skills that bring the greatest rewards. At independent schools ‘most coaches are ex-batters’ and “pitches are batter-friendly,” observes Chris Morgan, the director of sport at Tonbridge.
Batters from independent schools may also get more chances to impress those who matter in county academies. School coaches’ links to county sides mean that batters from private schools are more likely to be seen by the right people frequently enough – a potentially crucial edge. “Batters in general need more chances because they fail more often,” says Leamon. “Whenever there is a bias towards players from more privileged backgrounds, it is likely to affect batters more than bowlers.”
Fast bowling is a genetic lottery
Bowling is a different proposition: the genetic lottery plays a much bigger role. “You can’t put in what God left out,” says Morgan from Tonbridge.
Batters of all sorts of physiques can become elite, and the abundant practice and coaching that private schools make possible for children between the ages of 11 and 16 are more likely to benefit a batter than a bowler.
“It’s easier to make a batter. I would say fast bowling is an athletic pursuit, batting a coached skill,” said Morgan. “The key traits that make you a good batter tend to be learned rather than inherent,” Leamon observed. It is harder to identify fast-bowling talent at an early age than batting talent, because height and physique are crucial for bowlers and children physically mature at different rates.