Wisden has long carried details of schools cricket. As far back as 1865, the second edition included an account of the previous year's Eton v Harrow match. These days the coverage runs to some 200 or so schools over 40 pages. And now, in its 144th review of schools cricket, Wisden introduces an overdue innovation, the Young Wisden Schools Cricketer of the Year. The aim is to help raise the profile of schools cricket, especially at state schools.
The first winner is Jonathan Bairstow, whose eight innings for St Peter's School in York in 2007 produced three centuries, 654 runs and the remarkable average of 218.00. Jonathan, the 18-year-old son of the former England wicketkeeper David Bairstow, has already played for Yorkshire's Second Eleven and their Academy side, and represented England Under-17. He is still at school, so has a chance to win the award again in 2008.
"It was a great season for me and the team, made easier by the people around the school - in and away from the team," said Jonathan, who bowls as well as bats for St Peter's but, in family tradition, keeps wicket too: "I'm aiming to keep more this coming season," he said. "It keeps you in the game all the time, and I love being involved."
Each year's winner will be chosen on the basis of his or her performances in schools cricket, as reported in Wisden. The only criteria for a school's inclusion are that it must not be age-restricted, must have a sixth form, and a fixture list of an acceptable standard (in Wisden's subjective judgment). There are notable exceptions, but the majority of schools in these pages are from the independent sector, reflecting the paucity of cricket in state schools and colleges, a trend Wisden is keen to help reverse.
The award is sponsored by A&C Black, publishers of Young Wisden: A New Fan's Guide to Cricket, edited by Tim de Lisle. Most of the sponsorship fee is being donated to Chance to Shine, the charity which aims to raise £50m to regenerate competitive cricket in state schools.