The Kent state school found a formula for success as they overcame their independent contemporaries en route to victory
A remarkable story came to its conclusion in Kent as Canterbury Academy won The Thomas Cup & Thunder Trophy – a 20/25-over competition for U13s.
The state school beat Maidstone GS, Harvey GS, Oakwood Park GS, Norton Knatchbull School and Yardley Court to reach the final in Rochester.
After posting 103 for 8, Canterbury then bowled out their opponents, Sir Joseph Williamson's School, for just 59 to win the tournament.
Speaking to The Cricketer after the match, Phil Relf, the school's director of sport, detailed their triumph. "We ended up getting 100 off 30 overs which didn’t sound a lot," says Relf. "But we opened the bowling with spin and Harry Fulton took 4 for 11 off his six overs as well as getting 38 with the bat. A man of the match performance but he was well-supported.
"At one stage in the final we were 60 for 7 but Lawrence Taylor - an U12 player - came in at nine and him and Harry Fulton put on 30 for the eighth wicket which in this game proved to be the difference.
"We were always confident of defending our total. We bowled 18 overs of spin in the final which is great for two reasons; firstly, because you don't see a lot of spin bowling in junior cricket, but also players find it hard to adapt to quality spin bowling."
Much of Canterbury's success has been down to two players related to Kent legends. "Jaydn Denly, nephew of Joe Denly, was a left-arm seamer when he joined the school but this year has started spinning the ball and it has gone really well," adds Relf. "He is the captain of the side, left-hand opening batter and a terrific fielder.
"He has been really well supported by Harry Fulton, son of Dave Fulton. He has come on really well, he is an U12 playing in U13. Fulton bats at three and bowls off-spin as well. He was the difference in the final."
Although they were victorious in the final, the competition wasn't always been plain sailing for Canterbury. They've often been forced to employ clever, gritty and united cricket to survive under pressure.
"It has genuinely been a team effort," explains Relf. "There have been a couple of games where we have needed someone to hold the innings together in the lower order to chip in with a 20.
"We had a close game against Norton Knatchbull in the quarter final on a wicket which was classic sticky dog. We were bowled out for 80 in the 19th over, but that proved to be enough. We have been smart as we have opened the bowling with spin in most of our games which has proved successful. That has taken sides by surprise and has been our strategy all the way through."
In previous years, the tournament has been dominated by private schools. But as highlighted by Relf, the key to Canterbury's success is their desire for their pupils to play cricket.
"We have a sixth form programme where students have the opportunity to come and join our specialist cricket academy," says Relf. "They have two hours of training every day and on top of that they can get their qualifications. That advanced programme allows us to do quite a bit with the players.
"It's not just advanced players, we also produce good club players, and we want to try and give as many opportunities as we can. We work very hard to improve them and make sure they maintain their passion for the game.
"We awarded all the boys with cricket caps midway through the season and that has really motivated them. They wear the cap with pride and we had a proper presentation which really encouraged team spirit.
"It's really important that schools are creative when playing with students who aren't playing regularly. We want the game of cricket to be something they want to play again."
With less resources, it can often be difficult for state schools to compete against their independent contemporaries. But as Canterbury Academy have shown, enthusiasm, creativity and talent can go a long way.
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