Fame academies training stars
Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad will play an integral part in England’s bid for success in Sri Lanka and New Zealand this winter - a far cry from where they began their careers.
Both have risen to prominence in recent seasons - initially with their performances in county cricket - before bursting onto the international scene.
Their journeys to cricketing stardom began in the county academy system which nurtures young talent with the best players - both male and female - going on to a career in the game.
Other products of the system include former England women’s captain Clare Connor along with current internationals Claire Taylor, Jenny Gunn, Rosalie Birch, Caroline Atkins, Holly Colvin, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Isa Guha and Lydia Greenway.
Durham’s Liam Plunkett and Graham Onions, Adil Rashid of Yorkshire, Kent’s Joe Denly, Nottinghamshire pair Samit Patel and Bilal Shafayat and Somerset’s James Hildreth are also among the 60 players in county cricket who sharpened their skills in the county academies.
Other academy products include Lancashire’s Tom Smith, Steve Davies of Worcestershire, Glamorgan pair James Harris and Ben Wright, Northamptonshire’s Alex Wakely, Liam Dawson of Hampshire along with Middlesex duo Billy Godleman and Steve Finn.
ECB Performance Manager Keith Tomlins believes these names are an inspiration to cricketers currently involved with the academies.
“It’s important for counties to produce home grown talent. The county academies should be the nurseries for the England players of tomorrow,” he said.
“We work with best 13 to 19-year-olds with the majority in the 16 to 18 age bracket. The number of girls in the program is increasing but it is a very steep learning curve for them as they train with the boys.”
Tomlins oversees the 18 county academies which have been accredited to English cricket’s governing body since 2001.
His task is to ensure that the academies’ funding - from the ECB and the National Lottery - is spent efficiently on providing the best coaching possible for the young players in the system.
Each academy is headed up by a top-qualified Level Four coach who reports to Tomlins at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough on the progress of their institution.
The coaches also have the opportunity to send their most promising players to training camps there such as specific sessions with ECB spin coach David Parsons and former fast bowling coach Kevin Shine.
Tomlins is confident the system is working well with an emphasis on the players’ education to give them career options should they not realise their dreams of turning professional.
He also believes the academies get the chance to coach the best talent from all over England and Wales - including players from minor counties - by having good relations with schools and clubs.
“The current system works. It’s important they get the best education they can. For cricket at the moment it’s the best way forward,” he added.
“Eighteen per cent of academy players come from minor counties and the first-class counties have good relationships with neighbouring schools.”
Leicestershire’s recent signing of 17-year-old batsman James Taylor - albeit a product of Worcestershire’s academy having previously been involved with Leicestershire - demonstrates the importance of education as he will not join up with the county until he has completed his studies at Shrewsbury school in 2008.
Another educational opportunity available to the academy players is the MCC University Centre of Cricketing Excellence programme where a number of academy players migrate into higher and further education while continuing their cricket development.
England spinner Monty Panesar is perhaps the most famous UCCE product having been coached at Loughborough where Hampshire batsman Jimmy Adams also came through the ranks.
Other UCCE graduates include Ireland and Gloucestershire batsman William Porterfield (Leeds/Bradford) and Essex seam bowler Chris Wright (Cambridge).
Fellow Essex prospect 18-year-old batsman Tom Westley, who signed a professional contract at the end of the season, is another academy product and Tomlins would like to see other youngsters given their chance at county level.
“It’s great when young players are given the opportunity to play county cricket and there have been some real success stories. Rashid, Denly and Hildreth are all examples.
“We’ve got players as good as anywhere in the world. We just need to develop the programme further and improve.”