A ten day pre-season trip to India in March was designed to give the group experience of training in challenging conditions but also served to demonstrate that home comforts are often taken for granted.
Joined by Assistant Coach Wayne Noon, new signings Graeme White, Neil Edwards and Steven Mullaney, contracted professionals Andy Carter and Akhil Patel and nine Academy scholars, the trip was a component of an on-going effort to integrate young cricketers into the professional set-up and to make the first team dressing room a positive environment for new faces.
“We want to have a collaborative feel in the dressing room and for the guys who are established in there to help bring the others through,” said Tolley.
“Our dressing room is a much easier place for young players to go into now than it was a few years ago and the senior players are more willing to help.
“Five of the eight players we took away have spent the winter training with the professionals and that’s the major benefit of having them on 12-month contracts. We’ve got residential Academy players for the first time and that provides time for them to be around the pros and to do the same training.
“It gives them a chance to compare themselves to players who have been rewarded with professional contracts and it puts responsibility on the shoulders of the pros who we expect to mentor them.
“Some of them struggled with the cultural differences in India but that’s no bad thing because we always look to bring these lads on as people as well as cricketers. They struggled with the heat, with the food and with the culture but they showed a willingness to try and adapt to what they were faced with.
“Professional sportsmen become accustomed to all of the perks and it’s easy to lose sight of how lucky you are. Professional careers are quite short and experiences like this one create humility. If you’ve got humility, it helps you as a player.”
Although cricket was the central focus of the trip, a day spent at an urban primary school proved particularly rewarding. Although the tour was funded by the club, the Academy players had raised significant funds which were donated to Akanksha, an organisation that has given more than 2000 impoverished children a structured education.
“We commit to a community project every year and this time we asked the players to raise funds for Akanksha,” said Chris.
“We’d visited the scheme before and it gives them an opportunity to see how their money is being used rather than it being put into a larger pot elsewhere with little focus on where the money goes. The lads on the tour will explain to those who stayed at home what they saw in India and we’ll continue to work towards our target figure.
“A relatively small amount goes a long way and our stated aim is to hand over a cheque for £5000 which will fund the school we visited for a year. There were 60 kids in the school and I’ll never forget the way they responded to us being there. I’ve had an email from the headteacher saying how grateful they were that we took the time to visit and hopefully we’ve laid foundations for more visits in the future.”
Dovetailing the development of Academy players with the club’s priority to improve performances in one day competitions seems to be a good fit. After winning the Bassetlaw League last season, Notts Academy will compete in the Notts Premier League and Tolley believes that the time in India in the presence of established players will serve as perfect preparation.
“It’s going to be difficult for us as a team of coaches to pick a Premier League team and we’re going to have to place players in other teams to ensure that everyone gets the amount of match cricket that they need,” said Chris.
“There was a lot of talk about what we would and wouldn’t do when we went into the Bassetlaw league and people had their own opinions on whether or not our side was equipped to cope with adult cricket. We proved the doubters wrong but the Notts Premier League will be a different proposition although I’m hopeful that we can surprise a few teams.
“We’ve seen a lot of the players really kick-on over the past 12 months and the investment that has been made in the Academy is coming to fruition. The culture has changed, the lads push each other on more and Saturday cricket has brought them together.
“Scott Elstone is going to captain the Academy in the Notts Premier League, Jake Ball has improved very quickly and Akhil Patel is realising his potential. We’ve got three or four batsman under the age of 17 and a couple of bowlers who are all very promising so the next three years will be interesting for us when we get to the stage where they’re pushing for contracts.”
The presence of Academy graduates in first class cricket has highlighted the need to continue to invest in Nottinghamshire’s production line. First team players Samit Patel and Bilal Shafayat both emerged from the programme and World Cup Winner Jenny Gunn was another to excel under Tolley’s stewardship.
Notts remain committed to producing more cricketers, but Tolley has embraced the three external signings who arrived atTrent Bridge in the off-season.
“Taking the new signings away with us was good because even though they’re more senior cricketers, they’re finding their feet here,” said Chris.
“This is the latest stage of the winter programme that we’ve taken players away but it was important that we considered the stage that the professional players were at in their preparations for the new season.
“I’ve known Whitey for a few years and he works very hard on his game. Mullaney is a good player with a ruthless competitive streak and Neil Edwards knows his game inside out.
“I’m really grateful when first team players take the time to show their interest in young players coming through and the likes of Paul Franks and Andre Adams plus a few others have been fantastic with the Academy.
“It’s an important dynamic between aspirant Academy players and young professionals but the group gelled nicely and everyone got something from the trip.”