I recently went to Lord's to watch a county championship cricket match which would normally bring in something like a couple of thousand punters at best. This day, however, was different, as there were about 7,000 people spread around the ground – most of them cheering wildly. Approximately 5,000 of them were children.
Middlesex, who play their home matches at Lord's, and the Marylebone Cricket Club, the owners of the ground, it seems, had laid on a special day for schools which was giving thousands of children their first taste of a live professional cricket match.
Good for them. But it occurs to me that this venture could go further. Why couldn't such an initiative be used to boost flagging Test match attendances and give some atmosphere to sometimes somnolent occasions?
Lord's and The Oval, which is also in London, are the only grounds which regularly sell out for Test matches. Earlier this season, looking around the other grounds – which often have some pitiful attendances – it seemed as if 5,000 or so children could be fitted in no problem.
When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which is responsible for staging international matches in the UK, made a special offer for children under 16 on the last day of a Test match a couple of years ago, it came under fire for encouraging truancy (it was a school day). So I suppose some traditionalists might criticise over the fact that these children are not at their desks revising for their Sats or whatever.
Yet there's no need, as the world of cricket can easily be used as part of their curriculum.
Knock your class for six
Mental arithmetic, for instance, can be used for working out bowlers' averages; for example, four wickets for 58 runs means an average of 14.5 per wicket (I think, unless I've made a Stephen Byers-style faux pas. Remember "8 x 7 = 54"? It doesn't. That's what he got wrong when emphasising the importance of learning maths). You could also ask pupils to work out the run rates; for example, if one team scores 403 from 106 overs.
Something harder for those of A-level or GCSE age: describe how the Duckworth-Lewis method determines which team wins in a rain-affected match. Actually that may be a bit difficult. I think only two people know the answer and their names are Duckworth and Lewis.
History, too, could come into it. Look up the highest scores in a match between two given teams (often, helpfully, printed on a scorecard) and describe three world events that were happening in that year. In geography, for an international match, students could describe the terrain of the competing countries.
The officials at Lord's entered into the spirit of the thing on the day I was there, with a series of quizzes for the children and prizes for the winners – to make it feel a bit more like a part of their education. It didn't seem to dampen their enthusiasm. (Come to think of it, perhaps we could try that out on the regular spectators to make sure they stay awake at games in future).
There is a part of this idea which is submitted tongue in cheek – but I jest about it only slightly. Amongst those 5,000 children there on the day I went, there will – hopefully – be some who enjoyed the experience so much that they will want to come back again. If you offered them the atmosphere of a Test match, that number could increase. And you could find the next Ben Stokes or Alastair Cook (England internationals, for the uninitiated) in the process.
Thanks for reading this. Normal intense scrutiny of the education system will resume in my next column.
Richard Garner was education editor of The Independent for 12 years and has been writing about education for more than three decades