Worcestershire CCC held their latest Members Forum in the Graeme Hick Pavilion on the opening morning of the current LV=Insurance County Championship match with Leicestershire.
Club Chairman, Fanos Hira, presided over the forum where the speakers were Academy Coach Elliot Wilson, and Head of Player and Coach Development, Kevin Sharp.
Wilson and Sharp spoke in depth about the success of the Academy in producing players and the importance and growth of diversity and inclusivity within the pathway.
Elliot Wilson said: “It’s a massive priority of the club to produce our own players, and we are highly regarded for what we do in producing players, and seven of our side last week against Derbyshire came through our pathway.
“In 2019, the county cricket club took responsibility for women’s and girls’ cricket.
“During the same weekend as the Academy were playing in the Graham Williamson Trophy final, the girls (Women’s Rapids) were winning their T20 group in their version of the Vitality Blast, which is a great achievement.
“Over the last three years, women’s cricket has had a huge injection of energy and finances, and we’ve got regional cricket, and the number of professional players has grown significantly.
“We are very pleased to support Central Sparks and have them playing here on several occasions.
“We draw our players from a lot of clubs and a lot of schools across the county, with over 100 clubs and schools involved.
“We are quite small as a county in terms of our clubs. We have 47 clubs with junior sections, and Yorkshire have over 1,000, so our challenge is to try and compete with a large catchment area.
“We are quite creative in how we find our players. We cross the borders and venture into Herefordshire and Shropshire, and we’ve got players from Cheshire involved.”
Wilson added: “Over the last 12 months, the amount of challenges cricket has had to face is well known.
“We’ve had to go to some lengths to freshen up our environment to make sure it is very welcoming, very inclusive and that everyone who comes into this environment feels like they can be themselves.
“They don’t have to try and act or behave in specific ways to fit in. We create an environment where we see the best of them because they can be themselves.
“That has not been a simple thing for us to do over the last 12 months. It has taken a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of head-scratching at times to work out how we could do it better.
“But we are making some massive strides in that area and really pleased a number of players who come for trials, and don’t get in here, have gone onto play for Herefordshire and Shropshire now.
“We are proud to be a county which has a lot of diversity within our players, and even if we don’t take on them, we have signposted to other counties where they are able to be involved in county and age-group cricket, and it is a nice strand to what we do.”
Seven or eight Academy players playing in the first team for Worcestershire has become the norm in recent years.
He said: “Kevin (Sharp) has been a great support to me, and he has been a great help to me to deliver a programme where we transition a number of players from our Academy into professional cricket.
“It’s great to see Josh Baker become the latest to come off the conveyor belt. We’ve got such a depth and quality of players across all age groups, and it’s quite exciting.
“Some of the lads we’ve got at the moment are as good as we’ve seen in the last nine years on the verge of transitioning into professional cricket.
“There are a number of candidates to do that over the last 18 months, and fingers crossed we keep doing that for a long time to come.”
Regarding the game being more accessible to everyone, Wilson said: “The club has made a significant commitment to supporting all families who have players on the pathway if they have any financial hardship.
“We make sure for any player from any background in our programme that the costs of being involved should not be a barrier to being involved.
“They shouldn’t be wary of saying ‘yes’ to being involved because of the costs. The club has committed so that every player involved knows they should never be financially challenged. ”
Regarding the ECB plan about removing barriers on current pathways, Wilson said: “There are some significant barriers. We need to be better at identifying talent.
“We need to be supporting and educating coaches more, and we need to be delivering programmes to support players who aren’t as privileged to be able to get regular coaching at private schools.
“All those things have started to happen and will continue to grow over the next three or four years, and it will make this pathway and this club very inclusive and accessible to all.
He said: “I call it ‘cradle to the grave’ where I love to see the 12-year-old walking through the door and see them go out here and play cricket for Worcestershire just like Jack Haynes and Josh Baker.
“It’s something I particularly passionate about, being part of the journey of a young player. It always has its ups and downs, and it’s a rollercoaster ride.
“For me, it is about creating a healthy culture and environment. It’s good to do well but also good to do not so well sometimes, to create an environment where a young person can make mistakes, and it’s okay.
“Sometimes that’s the best way of learning, not always getting a hundred but sometimes getting three noughts in a row and playing a poor shot can be a really good learning curve.
“We’ve got some players in the system whose names I’m not going to mention, but I can say the future is very bright here, and we’ve got six players who have a chance of playing professional cricket.
“I was fortunate to be Head Coach when we won the Blast in 2018, and eight players in the team came through the Academy, and there was so much respect for us around the country about that, for the fact we’d brought through our players.
“There is a real emphasis on bringing players through, and long may that continue.”
Sharp stressed the importance of sufficient Seconds red-ball cricket at the height of the summer to help the development of youngsters.
He said: “We have the Vitality Blast and then The Hundred, and we have three red ball matches in between.
“We have a situation that the young lads in the Academy, when they are available to play Seconds cricket from mid-July to the end of August, have no Second team cricket because The Hundred is on and we have 50 over cricket.
“I hope Rob Key gets all this because, if not, I really worry for the next generation of red-ball cricketers. Where are they going to get the experience from if something isn’t done.?
“I hope Rob and his team make this a priority.”