Mike Kinder best EC XI

To mark Mike Kinder’s induction into the Guernsey coaching hall of fame, he named the 1989 College cricket 1st XI as the best team he coached. Curious to know why he chose that team the Guernsey Press asked a member of that side, opening bowler Will Walden to assess what all the fuss was about. Will Walden is a senior strategic advisor at the global communications firm Edelman. A former BBC news editor, he was Boris Johnson’s communications director for many years. Born in Guernsey, he worked for the Press as a freelance reporter in the early 1990s and played a lot of cricket. He hung up his whites in 2016. His personal view was published in the Press on 18th June 2022.

Will Walden Guernsey Press

To be a cricketer is to be almost irrationally committed, not just to the game but, given the often inordinate amount of time you spend with them, to your teammates too. And the longer you are a team, then the greater the bond, the stronger the belief, and the bigger the commitment.

The Elizabeth College First XI cricket team of the late 1980s had that bond, that belief, and that commitment. But our success wasn’t shaped over two record- breaking seasons in 1988 and 1989, rather it was the product of a set of friendships forged in adversity over the previous seven years.

The team of ’89 was essentially the same team who had laughed nervously as bats, balls, pads and suitcases had flown off the top of our minibus into oncoming traffic moments into our 1983 tour to Dorset and Somerset. It was the same team who had once dismissed a side for just 20. It was the same team who represented Guernsey together at every age group level from Under 11 to Under 23. And it was the same team who found that there is no greater motivation than humiliation. The ordinarily-named John Smith scored 232 not out against us on a balmy day in the summer of 1986. We never forgot it. And we never allowed it to happen again.

These then, and many more like them, were the moments and the events that shaped the core of what Mike Kinder considers the greatest team he ever coached. It’s quite a compliment given Mike’s own longevity and coaching pedigree. And as a coach, a mentor and a friend to us all, he, as much as anyone individual, helped shape that success. But it wasn’t just about one coach or one or two players, rather it was about an intuitive understanding that ran through the entire team.

We had something special. Something that has certainly never been replicated since in any side I’ve played in. Bowlers for every type of pitch, batters who could hit freely or just as easily grind out a score, fielders who could field long before the current obsession with specialist fielding began. We were not just tight. We were a unit. We were not just friends. We’d grown up together. We didn’t just fight for each other. We won together. And we lost together. So, even when the stars failed, others stepped up.

By 1989, our final summer before university or employment, we were getting cocky – openly talking about setting new records, stretching ourselves, and honing a killer instinct. It made us pretty unpopular. Word got about, and before long local sides, touring teams and other schools arrived with a new determination – to knock us off our perch. We’d set down a marker the previous year, going undefeated throughout the 1988 season, and toppling a strong MCC side (replete with a bowler who had even featured for Australia three years earlier), beating the old enemy Victoria College, and coming within one wicket of knocking over the best school side in England, Millfield, on their own turf. But we’d also drawn 17 games that season. Too many. We knew we hadn’t been ruthless enough. Then, out of nowhere, something happened that upended that cocky sense of togetherness. A handful of younger players – who hadn’t to that point been part of our cozy and settled line-up – started staking a genuine claim to a place in the team. For me at least this unwanted competition felt utterly discombobulating.

Questions raced inside me. Would I be dropped? Was I destined to carry the drinks tray in my final season? Would I arrive at the College Field one Saturday only to be dispatched to play second Xl cricket at the Memorial Field? As a seam bowler in a team of very talented all-rounders, was I next for the chop? In the event I clung on. There was a small changing of the guard, something that I know still rankles with at least one of those who ended up on the wrong end of Mike Kinder’s selection policy. But the team that began that 1989 season was still pretty much the same team as 1988, and pretty similar to the raw bunch of 11-year-olds who had assembled for winter nets at Beau Sejour back in December 1982.

Looking at it now, I can’t honestly tell you that those coming in were any better than those making way. Rather, I think the changes in that final season were made with an eye to the future, and as a means of keeping everyone on their toes. Even in a winning team Mike clearly thought competition was healthy. Rotating players is all the rage in cricket today. Back then it was almost unheard of. Whether by chance, luck or perhaps foresight, it had the desired effect. We didn’t quite manage to go unbeaten that year, but the manner of our cricket – once selective, careful, and considered – was suddenly altogether more expressive and ruthless. We literally went out to bat or took the field, ball in hand, determined to take opponents down from the moment the umpire called “play”.

Our mantra was all about attack. If there was a half-volley it got dispatched, opening over or not. Our batters pushed and ran, rotating the strike relentlessly, never allowing opponents to settle, scoring quickly. Once on top, they dominated. When bowling we crowded the slip cordon, used an array of close fielders on the leg side, and intimidated opponents from the off. And we talked a lot. Friendly banter I think it’s called. We never crossed the line, but we never backed down either.

We won 12 games that season, most by huge margins, drew a further seven, most of which we were on top of throughout, and lost just three, all of which were I think lost in the best way imaginable, trying to force a win.

The difference in attitude showed in the stats. The top seven batsmen managed nearly 3,000 runs between them, while the top three wicket-takers took nearly 100 wickets at a little over 16 runs apiece, with a wicket on average every 34 balls. Four other bowlers took a further 60 wickets at an average of 23.

I had to keep pinching myself. I was part of all of this. Above all I remember a sense of belonging to something that felt empowering. Like the day when, aided by some late morning dew, I somehow knocked over Victoria’s two leading batsmen in the opening over of a match which was always about grudges, settling old scores, and bragging rights. Even though I was more journeyman than star, in those fleeting moments my teammates made sure to let me know I had arrived. I hadn’t really, but boy it felt good.

For two of the big stars of that summer, Stuart Mackay and David Marshall, 1989 brought personal triumph on an altogether different scale. Both rewrote the record books against Victoria with back-to-back hundreds – the first centuries against the old enemy since 1971, and the first time since the 1960s that two players had scored hundreds home and away in the same year in this famous old inter-collegiate fixture. And then there was Neil Garrett. For Garrett that final summer was a vindication of his aggressive style of captaincy, and a reminder of his sheer hutzpah. Ahead of our last home game he turned up with the number five – his position in the batting order – shaved into the side of his head. He looked ridiculous, but that was Garrett. Inevitably someone took a photo, and by the time we began a week-long UK tour the next day, the story of Garrett’s shaven locks had made the Press. What followed was farcical. The school’s headmaster demanded Garrett return home. For 24 hours his future hung in the balance. After some frantic diplomacy, he stayed, and we continued to win. But by the time we stepped off the Aurigny a week later, Garrett had been slapped with a ban from all College property. It probably cost him a chance of playing against Jersey that summer as the game was played at the College Field. Today, 33 years on, the passage of time and place means we are no longer the band of brothers we once were. Two of that 1988/89 squad, leading wicket-taker Rob Turville and wicket-keeper Marcus Daley, remain close friends of mine. Others I’ve bumped into over the years at dinners, reunions or on visits home. The likes of James Robinson, Paul Philp, Dale Chadwick, Pierre Moody, Dougie Mackay and Mark Jefferies. The memories are there, of course, diminished by time, but still alive. As for the big guns of that team, Marshall, Mackay snr and Garrett, well I suspect they are slaying opponents somewhere.

I still dream about that season occasionally. In the dream I’ve been dropped, I see myself carrying that drinks tray. I am indeed opening the bowling for the Second XI. It’s a nightmare. And then I wake up and breathe a huge sigh of relief. As for Mike Kinder, well he’s a Yorkshireman, and Yorkshiremen aren’t exactly shy when it comes to an opinion or two. But was he right about this? Were we really the best he’d ever coached? Subjective, certainly. Right, maybe. What I do know is that over two glorious years the record books show we played together 46 times, winning 19, drawing 24, and losing just three. As one of my then teammates said to me recently “Happy, happy days. They really were a couple of golden summers”. Yes, they really were.

Elizabeth College First XI squad of 1988 and 1989

David Marshall- one of the most gifted opening batters of his generation, his momentous hundred against Victoria in Jersey was all style and timing. Scored over 1000 runs for the school and took useful wickets at slow medium pace.

Paul Philp – laconic opening bat who was very difficult to budge. Lived in the shadow of his opening partner, but Philp’s calm presence allowed Marshall to express himself.

Stuart Mackay – genuine all-rounder with flair and finesse. Scored over 1500 runs across two seasons. A brilliant hundred against Victoria was followed by a match winning century on inter-insular debut. One of six members of this team to win a full-Island cap.

Mark Jefferies – beautifully correct batsman who often saved his best tor the strongest opponents. Went on to make big runs for Guernsey over the next decade.

Neil Garrett – Marmite captain, aggressive middle order bat and the go-to spin option in the team, he took 62 wickets and scored nearly 650 runs over two summers. Cocky, a gutsy leader and tactically astute.

Dale Chadwick – an all-round athlete with a rocket arm in the field and the power to change a game in a matter of minutes with bat in hand.

Douglas Mackay – Stuart’s younger brother, he made an immediate impact with the bat in that 1989 season, his first year in the team.

James Robinson – incredible fielder, especially up close, he never dropped a chance. Natural attacking lower-middle order batsmen.

Pierre Moody – laser-like control made Moody one of the mainstays of the bowling attack and later a regular for Guernsey. Moved the ball both ways at pace, he was unplayable at times.

Marcus Daley – a wicketkeeper with a great pair of hands, and an obdurate lower-order batsman, “Arfer’ Daley as he was known was almost impossible to budge once set.

Rob Turville – raw pace and an intimidating length, he was the destroyer of top orders everywhere, blasting his way to 55 wickets in two seasons. Played for the island at cricket and hockey, and at 51, is still tending goal in the Guernsey Hockey League’s first division.

Will Walden – Turville’s opening partner, he bowled 300 overs across two seasons. taking 46 wickets, at an average of 17.

Andy Whalley – the youngster of the group. A wicketkeeper with lightning-fast hands, he later enjoyed a glittering hockey career in the UK.