Club Cricket Conference

Thursday, 1st October 2020

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Part 2

By Richard Edwards

19 June 2020

 

When the identities of the 55 England cricketers lucky enough to be resuming training were announced, the names of their counties were included alongside them.

Perhaps, after a summer like no other to date, it might also be timely to recognise the role played in the development of so many of them by their club sides too.

It’s tempting to believe that all cricketers are now snapped up by counties at an early age and parachuted into an academy system which, by and large, circumvents the club game entirely.

The fact is, though, that up and down the land clubs are still busy producing the talent that not only swells county squads but also provides top class talent that can graduate to the England national team as well.

Take Phil Salt as an example. The Sussex opener found himself in that long-list and, in all likelihood, could force his way into England’s short format plans this summer. With a Twenty20 World Cup still slated to take place later this year, Salt could even find himself forcing his way into Eoin Morgan’s side Down Under.

“Club cricket is still hugely important and I think most people would definitely agree with that,” says Salt, who played for Brighton and Hove in the Sussex Cricket League – a club which also boasts Matt Prior and Tony Greig among its alumni.

“It’s everything about the game, you’re often playing in a tough environment at a pretty young age, against players who won’t give you an easy time. It’s a fantastic breeding ground for young cricketers and perhaps those who have been overlooked by county age group sides.”

That was certainly the case for Jamie Porter, who despite missing out on the England squad for this summer, has been the most consistently impressive bowler in county cricket for the past three seasons.

He first cut his teeth in league cricket with Fives & Heronians in Chigwell before moving to Chingford Cricket Club, where he played a key role in their Essex Premier League title win in 2014. A short time later, he found himself a regular in the Essex starting XI.

“Club cricket gives you a perfect grounding and age doesn’t matter – if you’re good enough you’re old enough,” he says. “You have to take on responsibility at an early age, you’re given the new ball and you’re expected to take wickets. That’s a great thing for a teenager trying to make his way in the game. I think it helped me massively.”

Certainly Essex supporters have every reason to be thankful for the impact the county’s club scene had on the development of a player who was almost lost to the real world, with Porter having spent time working as a recruitment consultant.

Another who is in no doubt of the club game’s power is Anthony McGrath, Porter’s County Championship winning coach. Essex’s success in recent years has been built on a locally produced spine that brings to mind some of the great county sides of days gone-by, including the one that McGrath played in when Yorkshire won the County Championship in 2001.

Essex have similar pride in their own homegrown talent, with McGrath admitting that financial considerations could see his club, along with a great many others, leaning more heavily on locally produced club talent in the years to come. 

“The league systems in counties like Essex and Yorkshire are so well established and so strong that the talent pool of players is always going to be there – you just have to be brave enough to look for them,” he says.

“I think we’ve shown here that you don’t need to go out and recruit players from far and wide because, very often, these players are on your doorstep.”
So strong are the links between the Essex first team and the club game in the county that the players' clubs are written alongside squad members' names on social media whenever a team is announced. Essex also play an annual match against an Essex Premier League XI. That kind of dedication to the grassroots of the game sends out a strong message, not just to those players who have come through the system and know how valuable it is, but also to those who aspire to follow the likes of Porter in the Essex first team. 

Jimmy Anderson has always been effusive in his praise of Burnley Cricket Club, the side which first gave him the opportunity to shine.

It’s telling that when Joe Root was struggling for form at the end of an exhausting home summer in 2019, he returned to his roots and spent time netting and honing his game at Sheffield Collegiate, the club at which another former England captain, Michael Vaughan, also played for in his formative years.

Just a month later Root scored 226 against the Kiwis at Mount Maunganui – illustrating the benefits of going back to basics and returning to where it all began.
And we can't finish without mentioning the role played by the Cricket Club Conference's own representative sides, which will be the subject of a forthcoming article. The likes of Jason Roy and Sam Billings are just two members of an alumni that has few equals. Kent's Imran Qayyum is just one of a number of players who will testify to the importance of a programme which continually provides the chance for young promising club cricketers to take on those involved in the professional game.
But more of that later
.   
International cricket may have moved on but club cricket is still very much the bedrock of the English game, as those cricketers in line for an England call-up this summer know only too well.