Saturday, February 4, 2023

Cricket Ireland: Need meets initiative as Stella Downes steps up to meet the scoring challenge

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“You can’t have a match without a scorer because somebody has to record what’s going on in the match and decides who wins it” – Stella Downes.

After being a scorer for Clontarf Cricket Club for almost 40 years, former Cricket Leinster President Stella Downes realised that a crucial role within cricket was struggling – the role of the scorer. After considering the problem, Stella set about the challenge of growing the number of cricket scorers across Ireland. What she didn’t predict was how successful it would become.

“At the time all the talk was about the fact that we didn’t have enough umpires, and nobody was paying any attention to the fact that we didn’t have enough scorers. I just thought it was something that needed to be addressed.”

As Stella herself says, she wasn’t a particularly good cricketer, even though she loved playing the game. She ended up being named captain of the clubs’ women seconds and they had to try and persuade people to umpire their games.

“I tried to do that with a quid pro-quo with the lads and said – ‘if you umpire for us, I’ll do your scorebook for you at the weekend,’ – and I discovered that I liked it.”

With no courses having been run over the previous few years Stella decided she’d take it upon herself and put together a brief guide to scoring. In the winter of 2020-21 ran a course with the NCU under 19 girls after a conversation with Uel Graham, who is the cricket operations manager with the Northern Cricket Union.

It was a great success, so Stella thought more seriously about it and put together a full beginners’ course. After sending out a message to all the unions to see what interest there would be in a scorer’s course she discovered that most people didn’t just want a beginners’ course they also wanted a club scorers’ course that gave a qualification at the end of it.

“So, just after Christmas I pulled the two courses together and put feelers out for a Tuesday night course for beginners and within a day it was full. I had more people looking for it, so I also ran one on the Friday. Then all the names started coming in for Level ones, but there were still more names coming in for the beginners’ courses, so I thought if I run two courses on Tuesday then that’s three courses in the week. The courses are four weeks long, I’ll have them all done in a month, it’ll be grand.”

However, come the beginning of February she was running five beginners courses a week, two on Tuesday, two on Friday and one on Saturday. As if that wasn’t enough, she decided to move onto the level ones and was doing three of those a week as well, meaning that she was now doing eight courses a week.

“There were still names coming in so I’m currently doing course nine and course ten and I’ve started doing the modules for the level 2 scoring, which is representative scoring, putting those modules together, so ultimately there will be close to over 100 people who will have done the courses. It’s been busy, and very time consuming, but extremely enjoyable.”

Thanks to a concerted effort by the clubs to get the information out, letting people know that the courses would be run, that it became such a success. The fact that the courses were being run on zoom, and people didn’t have to go out for up to four weeks at a was a huge benefit, as people were quite happy to sit at home with their scorebooks and scoresheets and learn online.

“Course are so much better face-to-face, but we found that it worked quite well. I kept the groups small, limited to 10 people at a time, so everybody got their chance to ask their questions. Nobody was getting lost when they were doing the course. Everybody was being carried along by everybody else. People have been really engaged, and the great thing about it has been that because it went out to all the unions, the courses are countrywide, so there’s a mixture of people from all the different provinces in each of the courses, and that’s really nice. You have a couple from Strabane in the North-West on the same course as somebody from Kerry Cricket Club.”

Keeping score is vital to the outcome every cricket match, but on occasions even the best make mistakes.

“Oh god yes, I’ve made mistakes and I felt horrendous, absolutely horrendous. I had an awful experience at a match with a scorer who wasn’t very collaborative. Scorers tend to work very well together, but he was having a bad day and wasn’t being very helpful. A catch went up in the air and I was trying to see who had taken it. I got a pair of binoculars and said, ‘you just keep scoring and I’ll keep an eye on him until I find out who it is.’ He said, ‘yeah, no problem.’ But what he didn’t tell me was he was already lost in his scorebook, so when I put down the binoculars 3 balls later and asked what happened, there was absolute silence.”

Cricket holds a special place in Stella’s heart and has done since she was a child, when she used to sit alongside her dad watching test cricket and says that scoring games is the best way in the world to watch cricket.

“I’ve been scoring for the firsts for 35 years and the lads have always made me feel as if I’m a member of the team. It’s really enjoyable, you celebrate the wins, and you commiserate with them on their losses. It’s part of being a team sport, everyone who’s involved with the team is part of the team, and I love that.

“Cricket is such a great sport for people that like more intricate games. There are so many nuances to it and so many factors that can affect how a game turns out. It really is a case that the game isn’t over until the fat lady sings.”

For Stella, it’s the people who make the game so special, and something that separates cricket from many other sports.

“Wherever I go around the country the welcome that I get is just phenomenal. I’m fairly well known at this stage because I’ve been involved for so long, but as soon as you arrive at any ground people are over to you straight away to chat and make you feel welcome. Cricket is a very sociable and welcoming sport. It feels like you’re doing something worthwhile. You feel good about doing things when you know that people appreciate what you’re doing.”

Following the success of the courses will she check in on them or will she leave it up to them?

“I will be following up with most people. I’ve got a register now of who has done the various courses, and next autumn I’ll touch base with them and ask how their season went. Did you get out there and do some scoring? Did you enjoy it? Are you interested in moving along further? Would you like to do the next level? If so, this is what you need to do. I’ll run courses again next winter for people that are interested in moving along, and just keep rolling out the beginners’ courses.

“Even if you only get 10% moving up to representative level it means that there’s enough people to cover games. The amount of cricket that’s going on across the country is huge, and it’s growing exponentially every year, so it’s really important that we have the officials there. The more people that you can get started on the road, the better chance you have of getting some will stick with it.”

When the courses ended the reaction was very positive. Many of the participants were parents from clubs that their children were playing at they wanted to help out. So does Stella think many will continue on with the scoring?

“I would be disappointed if at least 75% of them aren’t doing some level of scoring in this coming season. I’ve told them that I’ll be going around the grounds to meet them and do games with them, so we’ll see what happens.”

Free courses on cricket scoring

Stella is shortly to run another series of scoring training courses – if you are interested in knowing more, head here for the course details.

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