The London postcode of N8 is somewhat unprecedented. As one strolls through the winding residential streets – each one leafier than the last, it is hard to believe that this affluent suburb could be any different from any other borough in the capital.
Yet, behind row upon row of semi-detached homes lies one of amateur sport’s best kept secrets. Cranley Gardens, Park Road, Tivoli Road, Montenotte Road; all four back onto cricket grounds – five of them, in fact. North Middlesex, North London, Hornsey, Crouch End and Highgate all own their own patch in what is, essentially, an enormous paddock, separated only by fencing, pavilions and the crests of five proud local rivals.
In residential London, the sight of such an expanse of land still being utilised for amateur sport is as life-affirming as it is unlikely. To suggest that these clubs merely ‘utilise’ their grounds would be to woefully undersell the influence that each has on its local community. All five look after the sporting needs of swathes of young children, providing not just cricket for all, but an opportunity for regular outdoor activity to an inactive generation.
It is at North Middlesex Cricket Club, however – the largest of the quintet, an undisputed statement at least in the sheer span of its verdant outfield, where this well-kept secret is producing unprecedented results.
As the England under-19 side jet off to New Zealand for next month’s World Cup, they will do so with a fifteen-man squad. Among the fifteen are Luke Hollman, a 17-year-old leg-spinner, and Ethan Bamber, who bowls at competitive pace with more than his share of skill and variety. Both teenagers are products of North Middlesex’s production line. Quite simply, no England age-group side has ever taken two players from the same amateur club to a global tournament.
It is as unique as it is surprising; Middlesex CCC’s age-group teams feature teenagers born or raised anywhere in the county – well beyond the constraints of Greater London. Joe Cracknell, a year younger than Bamber and an opening batsman at North Middlesex who has also come through the club’s youth system, has hit two double centuries for Middlesex U17, including the county’s highest ever youth team individual score in one innings against Kent.
2018 will also see the club celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the last major achievement to befall its youth section. In 2008, the U13 side saw off competition from 3,000 other clubs to win the ECB National Championship after a finals week at Oakham School. Neither Bamber nor Hollman were old enough to take part but, for those that did, they still look back on their victory as their finest sporting moment.
Nearly ten years on, the next generation is raising the question once again of how one club tucked in amongst a plethora of others and rows of houses has produced such a line of talented youngsters.