Division One Warwickshire have launched a new elite pathway for the youth of Staffordshire to get into professional cricket.
Announced yesterday, Thursday 6 March, the Bears have formalised their arrangement with Staffordshire County Cricket Club to encourage and help young boys proceed into a cricketing career.
The pilot scheme was initially launched in South Staffordshire but has been extended over the county, finding new talent at local clubs.
Neil Snowball, Chief Executive at Warwickshire CCC, said: “We’re thrilled to extend this relationship with Staffordshire Cricket to a more formal partnership, which provides joint-working opportunities whilst also giving its male cricketers greater access to elite level coaching and expanding our talent pool.
“This partnership is in the early stages and there are other areas that we would love to develop, including extending the pathway to the women and girls’ game.”
The clubs now operate a dedicated batting and bowling skills session for boys in Staffordshire clubs and any future talent will be put forward for Warwickshire’s Academy and Emerging Players Programme.
Older boys will have the chance to play senior cricket in Warwickshire Second XI competitions and minor county fixture games.
Jason Britton, Cricket Development Director at Staffordshire CC, said: “It is nice that we have formalised the relationship. It is a sharing of players and the access to the young talent.
“We have also got the access to some training facilities and exposure into the first-class environment, working on specific skills and their game to hopefully give them a chance to become full time professional cricketers.
“Our role is to create the best developmental opportunities for the players and they will make their own mind up to whether that fits with them and their best opportunity to making it in the game.
“The other side of the relationship is the fact that here at Edgbaston, a world-renowned cricket venue, we don’t have that in Staffordshire. There is a lot of spin-offs and things for our clubs and communities that can benefit us that we just can’t do as a non-first class county, like tickets for matches and memberships.
“It’s a challenging time to get young children involved in cricket. All team sports are struggling with declining numbers. It is an uphill struggle to get interest. Football is still the kind of number one, national sport but we, as a game, try to be the number one challenger sport to that.”
The Bears from Staffordshire
The Bears have a history of getting players from Staffs, with three of its current team members hailing from the county.
Liam Banks,19, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, is an opening batsman who has debuted with England’s under 19 squad, scoring a World Cup century against Canada in 2018.
“There is a lot more opportunity in cricket and I’m happy that I took that route from a young age really opposed to football where the chances are a lot slimmer of making a career out of it”, said Banks.
“The pathway which is opening up now, creates a lot more opportunities especially at a younger age. I was quite lucky to be able to come down and have a trial when I was 13. This pathway, and having a clear way into first-class cricket, is going to produce better cricketers from Staffordshire into Warwickshire.
“It will also strengthen Warwickshire cricket as well and I think the more people they can get coming into the system the more chance we have of succeeding in the future.
“If I had stayed at Staffs longer I still don’t think I would be in the position I am today. Being exposed to these facilities and coaches, seeing the contracted staff when I was younger and learning from the best, has helped me and put me in good stead.”
Another player from Staffordshire, Alex Mellor, has also represented The Birmingham Bears in the Vitality T20 Blast.
“Since being at Warwickshire it has been fantastic. It’s been a journey where I have continued to grow, continued to learn. Obviously, you are going to have your ups and downs, more ups than downs though and that’s the main thing.
“I know that my local club at Leek is brilliant with juniors and they have a lot of kids turn up on a Friday night and people love it. I think when the weather is great, it is a great excuse for the parents to say come on let’s go, they can enjoy the sunshine and let the kids run around and enjoy the game that we have all come to love.
“It is a great game if you are having fun. That would be my main thing, play with a smile on your face and enjoy taking part and getting involved in the game.”
A trained PE-Teacher, Alex Thomson, has put his teaching job aside to play professionally. It seems to be paying off, as Alex spent the first part of 2019 in New Zealand training with England’s spin bowling programme, alongside fellow Bears’ teammate Jeetan Patel.
“It was an amazing trip and fortunately for me I was in a very privileged position to be working alongside Jeets, he is an absolute wizard at what he does.
“Having someone with his knowledge and understanding of spin bowling and also someone who is willing to share that knowledge is something that doesn’t come along very often so to have the opportunity to spend weeks alongside him was fantastic for me. I feel like I’m in a much better place in terms of my knowledge and understanding of bowling but also in terms of the technical and mechanical side of spin.
“I think the initiative that is happening now is something that would have been fantastic five or ten years ago. Reflecting back on my pathway into cricket we had a link with Derbyshire at that point me but the link wasn’t to the same extent as it is here in Warwickshire.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity for young and up and coming cricketers to develop their game. Obviously, we have got exceptional coaches here the academy coaches are fantastic and the Emerging Players Programme is also exceptional. There is no better time to be a young cricketer.”
Warwickshire and Staffordshire will also collaborate on marketing for Birmingham Bears Vitality Blast matches, with recreational cricket clubs in Staffordshire being able to benefit from cashback on tickets and the opportunity to participate in the annual All Stars Day for players aged five to eight-years-old.
Jenny Moore, Club and Community Development Manager at Staffordshire County Cricket, hopes that the pathway will encourage more women to participate in cricket.
“We are going to be able to offer more of the Edgbaston experience to the clubs. We hope that the products we have on offer will encourage people, women in particular, to come down and maybe get on the ground or access to tickets,” she said.
“There are lots of parents out there keen to get their children involved especially when they know there is an offer with Warwickshire as it is such an amazing ground to come to that they love doing that side of things.”
To get involved in cricket, you can look up your local team here https://www.ecb.co.uk/play/find-a-club and get involved.