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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
The oldest rivals of all
The 2002 Harrow team take in the Lord's atmosphere
The 2002 Harrow team take in the Lord's atmosphere

Few sporting fixtures anywhere are steeped in as much tradition and history as the annual clash between Eton and Harrow at Lord's.

This weekend's match, the 164th such contest, saw Eton record a 66-run victory over their arch-rivals in front of a sizeable crowd.

And yet as this most famous of school matches nears its two-hundredth anniversary, it appears increasingly anachronistic, a remnant from a bygone era of privilege and class.

Like the Boat Race and Varsity Match, its intrinsically amateur ethos leaves it open to attack in this overtly professional sporting age.

This, after all, is a game involving school-children, and surely owes more to the English social calendar, than it does to the sport itself.

Relevance

Not so, say those involved in the game itself however, who are quick to emphasise its continuing relevance.

Eton practise in the nets
Eton practise in the nets

"This match is very important, and not only because it's played on the most famous ground in the world", said Simon Halliday, the coach of the 2002 Harrow side.

"It's a true privilege for the boys to be able to play here, but this is also the day when the quality of public-school cricket is judged.

"There'll be a crowd here of around 2500 people, all the corporate boxes will be full, and it means a huge amount to this level of the sport."

Heritage

The fixture was first played at Lord's in 1805, and over the years the match has featured some famous names.

In 1818 Eton won by an innings and two runs, but the game is best remembered for Lord Byron's appearance in the Harrow eleven.

He needed a runner for his club foot, but managed to contribute scores of seven and two.

Eton's match-winning team of 1952 featured wicket-keeper Henry Blofeld.

There were high-hopes for the youngster but injuries sustained from a biking accident hampered his cricket, and he instead went on to make his name as a commentator.

Kent's Matthew Fleming was a hero for Eton in 1982
Kent's Matthew Fleming was a hero for Eton in 1982

In 1982, Matthew Fleming topped both the Eton batting and bowling averages, and played a crucial role in the game against Harrow, the first time it was played as a one-day match.

His 52 was Eton's second highest score in their total of 216 for 3 declared, and later his eight overs cost just one run.

Fleming went on to captain Kent, and played 11 one-day internationals for England between 1997 and 1998.

Other famous cricketing Etonians include another much-loved commentator Brian Johnston, the inventor of the googly BJT Bosanquet, and Sussex captain John Barclay.

The only recent 'graduate' of Harrow to have turned professional is Nick Compton, the grandson of England legend Denis.

Having played in the 2001 Harrow fixture, Compton is now on Middlesex's books, and has played for England at Under-19 level.

Decline

And yet despite such famous names, there is no denying the fixture has declined in importance since the days when crowds of 40,000 packed into Lord's to watch it in the 19th century.
Nick Compton played for Harrow in 2001
Nick Compton played for Harrow in 2001

Fewer players from either school have gone on to play first-class cricket in recent years and it is perhaps indicative of the decreasing importance of public-school cricket to the senior levels of the sport.

"Since the game turned professional in the 1960s much fewer players from Eton and Harrow have gone on to make a name for themselves in cricket", says Ralph Oliphant-Callum, the current coach of Eton's squad.

"Having said that, we still produce some very good players; three of our side from last year now play for Durham University for instance.

"But ultimately this day is very special for both players and spectators; it's synonomous with the game of cricket, and although the boys are all very nervous, it's inspirational to play here."

Halliday, his counterpart at Harrow agrees.

Revival

"Public-school cricket has faded a little from the days when it produced so many good players", he says.

"But I really feel that it's on the way back again; three of our team today play for Middlesex Under-17s, and one is a Middlesex Under-16 player."

There's no doubt that this most established of sporting battles means less to English cricket now than it once did.

But for those youngsters lucky enough to play at the home of cricket, it will continue to mean everything.

See also:

23 Jul 02 | Cricket
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