Back from the brink — amazing revival for school cricket

Jared Smith




Home & Garden

Three years ago when Wanganui United club stalwart Steve Meredith went with his talented son Charlie to a Year 9 cricket muster at Charlie’s new school, only six boys waited. Whanganui High School is known for having the largest roll of the local secondary schools, but with that can come interests in a vast number of pursuits and a lagging commitment to traditional sports codes without an embedded structure to support them. But by being “a fly that won’t go away”, and working with the likes of WHS Sport co-ordinator Lisa Murphy and local legend Eric Head, who took on the ceremonial position of “head of cricket”, Steve Meredith is slowly engineering a renaissance at WHS. They now have more than 30 players joining in, with at least 10 more coming on to the books through Year 9 when Term 1 for 2022 begins. It hasn’t been easy. Cricket is one of the more expensive sports, with teenagers quickly outgrowing their kit, and initially playing only sporadic inter-school matches. But backed by a strong group of fellow fathers, Steve has built the numbers by holding weekly practice sessions without fail and organising games with other central region schools, which led to more school support internally. “It’s [also] a big difference with the indoor centre, where we actually had a preseason.” As a result, eight or nine WHS players have already made their adult cricket debuts with United at either Premier 2 or, in the case of Charlie Meredith, Premier 1 level. On Sunday (January 9), Steve took away a Cricket Wanganui Under-15 Development side to a Hawke’s Bay festival tournament, and 10 of the 12 players are from WHS. “Kids playing sport — you can’t get any better. It’s actually working,” he says. “Of that, probably the big thing for us is creating the Year 9-10 grade.” Saturday Colts cricket involves five teams — two from WHS (juniors and Year 10 combined), along with Whanganui Collegiate Year 9, Huntley School 1st XI and the Matt Burke Engineering Marton Saracens — who have their own development programmes in the Rangitikei. Steve, who is playing with the new Wanganui United 3rds in Premier 2, has a vision of WHS and other secondary school players coming into a less competitive form of adult cricket, ideally on Sundays. “Our goal is to help Cricket Wanganui to get a third grade going.” From that, those players will develop the confidence to play Premier 1-2 level, with the best of them likely to catch the eye of Riverview Motel Wanganui representative coach Warren Marr, who also teaches at WHS. Another goal is for a high performance coach role to be made available at WHS to build the talent. By Term 4 this year, Steve plans to have a WHS Colts team backing up an older WHS 1st XI, offering an interschool challenge to their much more vaunted neighbours in the Whanganui Collegiate 1st XI. “We’ll give them a very good run — that’s the goal for Term 4.”