Academy Production Line
Is Gathering Pace
Comment and Analysis | 23rd August 2011
Long gone are the days when Nottinghamshire and other first-class teams fielded players solely born within their county borders.
Yet the search for young talent that can one day represent the green and golds remains as painstaking as ever – maybe even more so.
Since 2000, former player and now academy director Chris Tolley has been helping to nurture the next generation of hopefuls.
Among the recent graduates to have passed through the club’s system are current first team regulars Samit Patel and Luke Fletcher, not to mention those on the fringes such as Andy Carter, Jake Ball, Scott Elstone and Akhil Patel.
Latest off the production line comes three teenagers, batsman-cum-spinner Sam Wood, batsman Sam Kelsall and all-rounder Brett Hutton, who were selected in the England under-19s squad for the home one-day series with South Africa.
You could be forgiven for assuming on the back of those call-ups that the academy system is excelling like never before.
“Our policy is to work with the best home grown players and then also recruit the best from some of the other counties too.” - Chris Tolley
But Tolley insists it has always had its successes, pointing out there has always been a steady stream of cricketers who have made it into the first-class game after coming through the ranks at Trent Bridge.
“I have been here since inception, when the club asked me to set up the academy after I retired,” he said.
“We have produced something like 11 first-class cricketers during that period – and I don’t think one a year on average is too bad.
“The only problem is that those players don’t always go on to establish themselves once they get on the staff.
“The likes of Bilal Shafayat, Mark Footitt and Paul McMahon all made it through but did not become regulars for one reason or another.
“But other like Samit Patel and Luke Fletcher have and it’s always satisfying to see people go on to do well for the county and, in some cases, play at international level.
“It is not just this year that we have produced some good players, it’s just that there’s probably more an emphasis on producing our own now.
“The ECB has changed the way clubs are funded, which means the importance of academies has increased with it.”
It will not be lost on Notts’ latest under-19 caps – who follow in the footsteps of the likes of Paul Franks, Alex Hales, Ian Saxelby, Nadeem Malik, Shafayat, McMahon, Fletcher and Patel – that some notable names presented their country at the same level.
Michael Vaughan Marcus Trescothick and Notts’ very own Graeme Swann, to name but three, progressed from that set-up to earn full Test caps.
Tolley, however, suggests Wood, Kelsall and Hutton must have the more immediate goal of establishing themselves in county cricket before setting any loftier targets.
“Sam Wood has already played one-day cricket and also played out in Abu Dhabi at the start of the season,” he said.
“Brett also made his first-class debut out there, while the timing of the call-up for Sam Kelsall to the under-19s is a little unfortunate in that he had been playing some fantastic second team cricket and was probably close to a first team debut.
“I would hope all would be in the first team squad for some of the CB 40 games leading up to the end of the season.
“I said three or four years ago we would have a decent crop, which we are seeing now, but hopefully there are two or three more to come after that.”
Spectators always love to see a local lad come good, but Notts have long since thrown their net far and wide in the bid for new recruits.
“We got Tom Rowe from down in Cornwall as part of our outreach programme and he has taken his chance really well this summer,” said Tolley.
“Our policy is to work with the best home grown players and then also recruit the best from some of the other counties too.”
The academy has benefited over the last three summers by having a regular weekend side, who competed first in the Bassetlaw League and now the Notts Premier League following promotion.
Tolley added: “The good thing is that it gets the boys together as a team, but sometimes it can be difficult to get everyone the full game they might get elsewhere if the top order batting and opening bowlers are firing.
“But then players have to earn the right and take their opportunities when they arise – because that’s what cricket is all about.
“We are trying to set high standards and bring the best out of people.”
Matt Halfpenny is the Midlands Sports Journalist of the Year and covers cricket for the Nottingham Post.