When Jake Ball took his first Notts wicket in the NatWest Pro40 game against Sussex Sharks in September, many would be forgiven for asking; where did he come from?

Thrust into the limelight to gain match experience as the Outlaws’ season drew to a close, Ball was joined by fellow academy player Ben McGuire in making his debut in professional cricket last season.

Picked to gain experience rather than influence results, their arrival highlights a significant shift in policy at Trent Bridge to accelerate the development of talented players in the club’s academy system.

Although their debuts were low key, they were the culmination of several years of intensive nurture in a system which is now bearing fruit.

“Recruitment is always going to be a big part of putting together a competitive first team squad but the academy has always been the other option and the aim of all of the work that we do is to make it an attractive option,” said Chris Tolley, the former Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire all-rounder who heads up the Academy at Trent Bridge.

“Jake Ball, Ben McGuire and Akhil Patel have played first team cricket this season and they are setting the example for the other young non-contracted players who are coming through. They’ve all started to push each other for what will ultimately be a finite number of places on our full-time staff.”

In a unique move, Tolley has arranged for four academy scholars to live with contracted professionals in West Bridgford next season to increase their contact time with the club. McGuire will be joined by Dan Cumming, Sam Kelsall and Michael Robson in the house with an enhanced programme of cricket and education provided for them.

“We put a lot of forethought into this programme and we’ve moved two professionals in with them to give the younger guys some informal supervision,” said Tolley.

“They’re all mature lads and we wouldn’t have done this with players who we thought couldn’t cope. There’s a good group of youngsters coming through our system and their lifestyle knowledge is key so that when they come on to the staff they’re past any problems that can arise when you move away from home.

“Money is coming into the game and that gives young players freedom and more cash to spend on the social side and they have to get the balance right when they’re finding their feet and make sure it doesn’t impact on the really important thing which is the cricket.
“I want the scheme to expand because it means that we can bring players in from other areas. We’ve got some players in Cornwall who might be suitable for it in a couple of years and we’re talking to the Irish set-up about potential links.

“I mooted a similar idea to Hugh Morris a few years ago but there was a bit of resistance because it is similar to the route which football clubs have taken and it can serve to raise expectations. The ECB have always been keen to underline the importance of education alongside cricket and we’re fully supportive of that which is why we’ve arranged a partnership with the college.”

All four players have enrolled on a modern apprenticeship in Sports (Performance Excellence) at South Notts College, a qualification equivalent to two A-Levels. They receive eight hours of education, partly hosted by Dayncourt School, a specialist sports college. A tutor visits Trent Bridge twice a week and the players also attend four sessions per week with fitness and conditioning coach Kevin Paxton.

“We give them a to manage their day and a half to run their own cricket sessions and whilst we’re there to support it, it’s player-led rather than coach-led,” said Tolley.

“They’re also pursuing cricket coaching qualifications to help them become more self-sufficient and able to identify faults in themselves and each other.

“A lot of the academy players are able to spend time with us during the day now which is a significant step. Brett Hutton and Adam Dobb spend Wednesday afternoons with us because of our link with Worksop College and Lily Brown has a similar arrangement with Nottingham High School. Sam Wood and Adam Shepherd are also able to pursue education and spend Wednesdays and Thursdays with us so we’re getting a lot more contact time with the players.”

Whilst the current crop demonstrated their potential with a resounding run to the Bassetlaw League championship, there is no doubt that the Notts Premier League will provide a much sterner test. With that in mind, the recruitment of 17-year olds Michael Robson from Durham and Dan Cumming from Staffordshire demonstrates the importance of attracting talented young players to Trent Bridge.

“There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t go after players from other first class counties but Paul Johnson had coached Michael at England Under 15s and thought that he might benefit from a change of scenery,” said Tolley.

“He played well against our emerging players last year and we liked him but we felt that we couldn’t service a player who was based in another first class county. He spoke to us again this season at the regional under 16s festival and said that he was keen to join and the residential programme has made that possible.

“We’ve seen Ian Saxelby leave us and establish himself at Gloucestershire and win a place in the England Performance so it’s important to keep an eye on players emerging elsewhere.

“Playing league cricket has allowed the academy players to gel as a team and that was the main purpose of the exercise but the quality of the opposition in the Bassetlaw League wasn’t as high as we anticipated. They performed well, stuck together on and off the pitch and got good comments from people who watched them but now they’re making a step up. The teams that go up to the Premier League tend to struggle so it might be a season of consolidation and making sure that we can compete. The guys that have shown signs have to grasp it and put in match-winning performances. The results won’t be dependent on one or two players and everyone will have to perform.”

“Sam Kelsall averaged 37 in our Second Eleven last season, which is great for a 16 year old, but now he needs to take his game to another level. I’m using him as an example but all of our players need to make contributions that are bigger and better and impact on the results of games. We’re pushing them to focus on their results a little bit more now but they’re showing very positive signs.”

With increased investment, streamlined programmes and a talented crop at Trent Bridge, don’t bet against Nottinghamshire’s unfamiliar debutants becoming established names in the future.

Jake Ball, 18, right arm fast-medium, right hand bat.
Jake enjoyed a rise to prominence in 2009 having only just joined the Academy, a call-up to the England U18s squad pre season followed and capped the season with a wicket on debut in Notts Outlaws’ televised NatWest Pro40 game against Sussex Sharks in September. Ball will be closely monitored by Mick Newell in 2010.

Ben McGuire, 18, left hand bat, right arm medium pace.
Another non-contracted player to have made his first team debut in 2009, an explosive batsman McGuire has represented the Midlands Region at U17s level and played an important part in the winning of the Bassetlaw League last season.

Dan Cumming, 18, right arm fast-medium, right hand bat.
Dan showed great promise at Longton CC becoming a Staffordshire Premier League winner in 2009 and joined the Notts Academy half way through the season following a good bowling performance against the Nottinghamshire U17’s.

Oliver Swann, 17, right hand bat, right arm medium pace.
Oliver made his minor counties debut for Bedfordshire in 2009 and is in his second stint as a member of the Notts Academy system. Formerly being part of the first Emerging Player Programme he has played with Sandiacre CC in the Derby Premier League

Adam Shepherd, 17, right arm fast, right hand bat.
A dominant force in the Bassetlaw League last season, Shepherd’s pace made him unplayable at times and his consistent form was rewarded with a call-up to the England U18s squad. Has played for Clifton CC in the Premier League, he’s entering his fifth year at with the Academy.

Lily Brown, 17, right arm medium, right hand bat.
Following in the footsteps of World Cup winner Jenny Gunn, Lily is the only female member of the Notts Academy and continues to develop her game at pace having been selected for Junior Super 4s. Plays for Radcliffe-On-Trent, she is a regular for Nottinghamshire ladies.

Taylor Williams, 17, right hand bat, wicket keeper.
A product of the club’s established Cornish links, Taylor made his minor counties debut in 2008 and continues to represent Cornwall at U21 level. He plays his club cricket with St Austell in the Cornish Premier League.

Dominic Harvey, 17, right arm medium, right hand bat.
Dominic  was a member of the promotion winning Notts Academy team in the Bassetlaw League last season and has represented the midlands at U13/14 level.

Brett Hutton, 16, right arm medium-fast, right hand bat.
A team mate of long-serving Notts all-rounder Paul Franks at Farnsfield, Hutton has spent two years in the Academy and gained Midlands U17s honours in 2009 along with making his Second XI debut taking five wickets against Scotland Lions.

Adam Dobb, 16, off-spin, right hand bat.
Off-spinner Dobb plays his club cricket for Mansfield Hosiery Mills and first joined the Academy in 2008. Adam has represented the Midlands region for the last four years.

Sam Kelsall, 16, right hand bat, wicket keeper
A Staffordshire Premier League winner with Moddershall in 2008, Sam is the longest serving member of the Notts Academy. He won the Dennis Compton award heralding him as the most promising schoolboy cricketer in the country and has played U16s cricket for England. Already a Second Eleven regular, his recent move to academy accommodation near Trent Bridge is sure to accelerate his development.

Sam Wood, 16, left hand bat, off spin
One of two Farnsfield CC representatives in the Academy, Sam has played representative cricket for the Midlands at U13/14/15 and 16 and he made his second eleven debut in 2008 aged 15

Michael Robson, 16, right hand bat, wicket keeper
A recent recruit to the Notts Academy, Michael is an all-round sportsman who showed promise as a footballer before turning to cricket with Sunderland CC. A trip to Bangalore early in 2010 aided his pre-season preparations and call-ups to the north regional squad and the England under 18s scholarship squad indicate his potential.

Adam Tillcock, 16, right hand bat, slow left arm
A product of Nottinghamshire’s emerging player programme performances for Midlands under 15s and County age group sides helped Adam to gain a place in the Academy this season.

Hassan Azad, 16, left hand bat, off-spin
Hassan moved to the UK in 2009 having previously represented Karachi and Pakistan U15s. He joined Underwood CC last season but is more than capable of stepping up to a higher level.

Bobby Gamble, 15, right arm medium, right hand bat
Another product of Nottinghamshire’s emerging player programme, Bobby is the youngest member of the Academy and made his Premier League debut for Plumtree in 2008 aged 14.

Scott Elstone, 19, right hand bat, off spin
Scott first joined the Academy in 2003 as a 13 year old. Scott had a very successful 2009 in club cricket for Wollaton scoring over 700 runs and taking 26 wickets. Scott will be leading the newly promoted Academy side in the Premier League this season.