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Today was the last day of tour. The boys had the whole day to sightsee in Paris. With so much to see, everyone made the most of the day, which began overcast and provided consistent heavy rain towards the afternoon and into the evening.

We saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triumph, La Defense, the Champs Elysees, among many other sights, and were able to take time to soak up the atmosphere of the culture-rich city. Given the late sunset, the boys were allowed some extra time in the evening to see the Tower and the city under lights.

Despite a couple of close calls with pick-pocketers, all arrived back at the hotel safely – and tired.

   

Tomorrow we board our long flight home, due to arrive in Sydney by 8pm on Monday.

Yesterday the Under 15s left Cambridge and met the Under 16s to leave England and travel to France. Despite the title, no cricket was scheduled to be played in France, so the final few days of the tour are purely sightseeing.

We drove by coach to Dover and boarded the ferry on foot beneath the famous white cliffs. It took us a bit over an hour to cross the Channel, landing on the shores of Calais in the late afternoon. After a delay waiting for our French bus driver, we transferred to Roye for a team dinner and overnight stay.

The French countryside we have seen so far is very similar to the rolling English hills to which we have become accustomed on our long coach trips. Yesterday’s journey was accompanied by heavy rain for much of the drive, though we were greeted in Roye by a spectacular sunset and today we had a wonderfully clear and warm day.

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This morning we travelled to the city of Amiens, famous for its sizable cathedral and the fact that Jules Verne lived there in the latter years of his life, writing many of his famous books while a resident. On the way we stopped at the Australian National War Memorial, Villers–Bretonneux, where many soldiers are buried who fell in wars fought within France. We spent some time there, wandering among the graves and pondering the lives of those who died. The memorial itself includes a tower that provides an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. The city of Amiens was built along a river and the many channels and bridges create areas somewhat reminiscent of Venice. After a few hours sightseeing we headed back onto the bus, en route to Paris.

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Arriving in Paris in the early evening provided some time to see some of the famous city before bed, particularly as most places stay open late and it doesn’t get dark until 10pm. We walked as a group to the Seine, at which point we split into smaller groups to explore. Some boys decided to get dinner and go back to the hotel in order to make the most of tomorrow’s full day of sightseeing. Others had dedicated tomorrow to climbing the Eiffel Tower, so tried to see as many other attractions as possible this evening. Paris is an interesting city, with many different aspects and a plethora of old and famous monuments. It is a busy place and this part of the tour has been challenging in that only a few boys study French at school, so while they have been very useful to the group, the rest of the party has found it difficult to communicate.

What’s Strachan’s first name?
– Jackson Preedy

What animal is this?
– Jackson Preedy, while eating a steak

My steak is eating my beans!
– Jock Tonkin, whose steak was a little undercooked

I hope our billet family has a hot daughter… and a hot son
– Jackson Preedy

Where’s my bag?
– Jackson Preedy, repeatedly

Where’s the sport’s store?
– Angus Macqueen, in every city we visited

Hoppo, have you got any money I can borrow?
– Angus Macqueen, third day of tour

I’m just going to have to pee into a bottle!
– Satya Krishnan, who did

That’s a thousand pound euros!
– Jock Tonkin

Do birds fly backwards?
– Jock Tonkin

Oh, they have seagulls here as well!
– Jackson Preedy

Don’t we have to pay for these free refils?
– Cameron New

Monday saw the start of a three day festival – called the Castle Cricket Festival – in which the Under 16s participated as our last cricket of the tour. The Castle Cricket Festival is a schoolboy cricket tournament that has been held yearly for around twenty years, generally between the same four schools. It consists six 50-over matches in a round robin format with the winner being the team that wins the most games. The name of the festival comes from the fact that each of the participating schools have grounds that feature a castle. This year we were offered a place in the tournament after one of the regular schools had to pull out at the last minute. We plan to petition for a castle to be added to our grounds, in the hope that we will be invited back to play again.

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Our first game was against defending champions Monmouth School, who are one of the best cricket schools in the country – in fact, they have won the previous nine Castle Festivals. In what was always going to be a difficult match, we started very well, batting first and scoring 86 runs before the first wicket fell. However, a terrible collapse caused by a lack of ability to effectively play spin saw us all out for 163. A fighting half century from Angad Roy was all that held the innings together. Ordinary bowling and poor fielding defending our small total meant we were never in the game, our opponents passing our score for the loss of just three wickets and with 21 overs remaining.

Meanwhile, the Under 15s played a 40-over match against Oundle Cricket Club. Oundle is about an hour away from Cambridge and its ground, which dates back to the 1400s, is surrounded by a picturesque stone wall. Coming into the game with three wins on the trot, we played with confidence and, batting first, set a good total of 8/211. This featured a well-compiled 69 not out from Cameron Peacock batting down the order. Early wickets had us on the front foot with the ball, but it was Will Scholes’ ability to clean up the middle order and tail that earned us a comprehensive victory, bowling with variation and flight to take 5/26 and dismiss our opponents for 119.

On Monday night the Under 16s got together for a barbecue with the squads from each of the other participating schools. It was a good evening and all the boys got on well with their English adversaries.

Tuesday saw our Under 16s playing a match against our hosts, Kimbolton School. Batting first again, another good start was undone by poor batting – four run outs turned what could have been a very competitive total at 5/177 in the 37th over into a below par 207 all out. With the Under 15s having a day off from cricket, the whole squad was together for the morning session. In a game we thought we could have won, it was the inability of individual batsmen to compile a big score that proved the difference – five batsman managed to pass 20 but all fell before 50. This has been one of the great lessons of the tour for our senior boys, seeing the difference a big half century or century can make to a team’s ability to post a big total (a lesson learned particularly well when the same batsman was dropped before scoring his first run!). This day it was our opposition’s opening batsman, who batted particularly well scoring 114 not out and, despite some tight bowling that kept our noses in front for much of the innings, helping his team pass our total in the 46th over for the loss of four wickets.

The last night of the festival featured a formal dinner in Kimbolton School’s main function room. The boys looked smart in their butcher’s coats as they mixed with boys from other schools at tables. We have been welcomed particularly warmly by our hosts and it was a nice event to celebrate the on-field competition and off-field camaraderie.

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Wednesday was the third day of the festival and our Under 16s played their final match, against Dean Close. Winning the toss and batting first for the third time, it was left to our middle order to provide some fight after falling to 4/41 early. And fight they did, led by captain Lachlan Strachan who came in at number 6. He and Matthew Planinic (34) shared a 55 run partnership to put us back on track, and then 106 from just 99 balls between Lachlan and William Tugwell (38) saw us post a competitive total of 226 from our 50 overs. This was an excellent recovery after it looked at one stage like we would be bowled out for under 100. Lachlan batted aggressively and with determination, starting slowly when a rebuild was required before accelerating towards the end of the innings. He hit four sixes in his last fifty runs, the fourth of which brought up his first ever century, ending with 106 from 104 balls, including 10 fours.

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An early wicket and good bowling by Marcus Creais (2/42) gave us confidence but some steady batting had Dean Close traveling well heading towards tea. However, two wickets to Angad Roy (2/40) in the last over before the break turned the game our way. With our opponents keeping ahead of the run rate and as many as four bowlers out of action due to injury, we had to keep taking wickets. Another two-wicket over saw us again in contention for a win, and some accurate bowling from Aditya Ramakrishnan (4/40) ensured a victory by 66 runs. This was a very good team effort and a wonderful way to finish the tour from a cricket perspective.

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The Under 15s were also able to pick up another victory, despite a slightly stronger Oundle team in the Wednesday rematch. This was our fifth win in a row. Batting first, Keishav Muralietharan looked stylish as opener and was ably supported by Cameron New (23) and Daniel Hawkins (22). Keishav finished with a well-compiled 78 to ensure a competitive total of 178 from our 40 overs, despite a middle order collapse. Wickets were shared between the bowlers and fell regularly, with Oundle being bowled out for 136 in the 29th over.

The Castle Cricket Festival was won by Monmouth School, their 10th win in a row. While they won each of their games, wins were spread between each of the other schools, meaning our Under 16s finished equal runners up, a fine achievement given the quality of our opponents.

The boys have certainly improved significantly in their cricket as the tour has progressed and look to be well placed heading into the home cricket season in Term 4. If they can maintain their skills and remember the things they have learned on tour they will be very competitive in whatever team they play. Many of the senior boys will be pushing for selection in the 1st XI, some who wouldn’t have given themselves much of a chance three weeks ago.

This morning we met back together at Teddington and said farewell to our hosts before boarding the coach for Cambridge. On the way, we stopped at Wimbledon where The Championships took place a couple of weeks ago. Some of the boys took the chance to have a look around the museum at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which also included a visit to Wimbledon Centre Court.

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Just before arriving in Cambridge, we saw some old war planes flying overhead that were part of an airshow [The next day we learned that two of them suffered a midair collision later that day, although both pilots escaped with only moderate injuries]. Upon arrival, we had time to explore the city of Cambridge. It is a student-centered town, built around the many residential colleges that make up Cambridge University. Cambridge is another city we have visited that is rich with history, with the oldest college dating back to the 1400s. The cobbled streets house narrow terraces of which we have become accustomed, but the colleges are what give the city its character, each with their own grand frontages and chapel towers that define the skyline. It is strange to think that we can wander the same paths as the great minds of the past, like Sir Isaac Newton, and where Stephen Hawkins still lives and works.

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The youth hostel in Cambridge is, to say the least, budget accommodation, but it does the job. There is a games room with a pool table and computers with internet, so the boys are happy. While most of the city is pleasant, we did manage to find one of the seedier streets on our way to finding some dinner, when we saw girls vomiting in the gutter and a fight breaking out. It turns out most of the university students are away on Summer break, but the school leavers are out celebrating. Despite that, our evening was incident free and we returned to the hostel safely.

At Kimbolton, the Under 16s are participating in the Castle Cricket Festival, hosted by Kimbolton School, and staying in one of the school’s two boarding houses. It is comfortable accommodation with rooms ranging from singles to four-bedders, and there are two living rooms with lounges, a piano, TVs and a DVD collection. It is a girls’ boarding house, so the DVDs mostly ranged from High School Musical to Dear John, and while this would suffice for Marcus Creais, we were able to find a movie amongst them that we would all enjoy. Tonight the boys went out for Chinese while the staff spent the evening with staff from the other schools participating in the festival, over a meal.

Tomorrow the Under 16s begin the festival, while the Under 15s travel to Oundle to play the first of two fixtures there.

Yesterday morning we had the privilege of visiting Lord’s Cricket Ground – the home of cricket. We took a tour of the ground, which included the museum housing the original Ashes urn, a tour of the famous pavilion, a look a the ground from the best seats in the house, and the state-of-the-art media centre. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot on the way, such as the fact that the first international cricket match was between America and Canada who were the powerhouses of cricket back in the day. Being able to sit in the seats of so many Ashes heroes and stand on the famous balcony of the away dressing room was brilliant.

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After walking back to the hotel via the famous Abbey Road crossing, we travelled to Teddington to play against the local club there. The ground was inside Bushy Park, a massive public reserve so large it housed four separate cricket clubs. There were many deer in the park also, which created a very picturesque surround with not only the deer meandering by in herds, but also groves of flat-bottomed trees having been eaten away by the deer to the same height.

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Cricket-wise it was a very successful day. The Under 15s continued our winning form, playing a 30-over match. Bowling first, three wickets in the first three overs had us well on top. Our opponents fought well, however, to bat out the overs, scoring 8/111. Two early wickets in our innings raised a few nerves, but Angus Macqueen took the game away with a blistering half century, backing up his bowling earlier in the day to complete a fine individual performance: 3/11 from 6 overs opening the bowling and 82 not out from 57 balls, including 12 fours and 3 sixes. We passed our hosts’ total in the 16th over for the loss of 3 wickets. Amazingly, Angus and Wallace Stranger shared a 70-run partnership in which Wallace faced only 10 balls!

With an early finish, the younger boys were able to watch the Under 16s complete their match. Batting first, we lost two early wickets but a brilliant partnership of 141 between Tom Pegler (65) and Mitch Healy (72), who were successfully promoted up the order, helped set an imposing target of 193 from 30 overs. Had there not been a terrible collapse of 5/14 in the latter overs, it could have been more. Early wickets when bowling were hard to come by, however, we were able to restrict their scoring despite a 72-run opening partnership. Needing over 8 runs per over, pressure started to build and wickets began to fall. Angad Roy (4/23), Aditya Ramakrishnan (2/22) and Tom Fulton-Kennedy (2/25) all bowled well, ripping through their middle order and ensuring an impossible chase, our hosts finishing 9/138. This was another momentous day for the tour, with our Under 16s winning their first match.

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Today was a full day of sightseeing with host families. Some of the boys went to Twickenham, the home of English Rugby, while others spent the day socialising with their billets and enjoying local sports centres. Tomorrow we leave Teddington and head on to Cambridge, where our Under 15s will stay for the next four nights, while our Under 16s continue to Kimbolton to participate in the Castle Cricket Festival.

On Wednesday morning we said farewell to our hosts in Swansea and Ammanford and travelled from Wales to London by coach.

This was, of course, State of Origin day back in Australia so we were desperate to find somewhere on the way to watch the game together. Unfortunately, trying to find a venue for 26 underage boys that was actually showing the game proved a task too difficult, so we resorted to SMS updates from home. The wrong team won anyway.

After arriving at the Holiday Inn in Regent’s Park we walked to Picadilly Circus for our first taste of London. It was a busy time of day so the streets were packed with tourists and locals. The boys were in heaven looking around Lillywhites at Picadilly Circus – five floors of sporting goods of all kinds – and enjoyed taking in the atmosphere of one of the world’s most famous cities. We then took a walk down Carnaby Street for some more shopping.

On Thursday morning we were picked up in a bus and taken on a guided tour of the City of London. We had a whistle-stop tour of all the biggest attractions: Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Big Ben, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Madame Tussaud’s, Hyde Park, London Eye, The Thames, Millennium Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and Downing Street, among others, finishing at Buckingham Palace where we had a chance to take photos and walk down The Mall back towards the city. The boys were given the afternoon to sightsee in smaller groups under their own steam.

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The timing of our visit coincided with the world premiere of the last Harry Potter movie, which meant there were crowds everywhere and Trafalgar Square was buzzing with fanatics who had queued for days to get a glimpse of the red carpet stars. It did make it difficult to get around on foot, but the city was well dolled-up for the occasion.

London provided some typically English weather. An overcast morning on Thursday provided some “real” rain as the day progressed, making photographs even more difficult than they already were from the moving coach.