Finchley revamp can help Middlesex attract promising youngsters
A team based at the best-known cricket venue in the world would, you might imagine, automatically have their pick of the best young talent around.
That certainly isn’t a view shared by anyone at Middlesex CCC, who have dipped into the club coffers to try and tempt the cream of the next generation with top-level facilities not just at Lord’s, but elsewhere too.
Last summer Middlesex completed a substantial investment programme at Radlett CC, which is now the base for their second XI and will host a first-team match for the first time in 2013.
More recently, the club have spent in the region of �70,000 on revamping their academy at Finchley, which hosts training sessions not just for the senior players but also the teenagers who are earmarked as candidates to take their places one day.
To underline that aim, the new-look Finchley centre is festooned with photographs of recent graduates who went all the way to the top with England – Andrew Strauss, Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn.
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Middlesex’s managing director of cricket Angus Fraser – who also came through the ranks and progressed to England fame, said: “It’s partly to brighten the place up, but also you’re trying to inspire young lads to get out there and achieve.
“It’s been brilliant to have the likes of Strauss, Finn and Morgan playing regularly in the England team in recent years and we want to keep that treadmill going.
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“It’s great to have players that were here eight or 10 years ago appearing on TV. We want boys to feel that, if they perform to a good level, they’ve got a chance of following in Finn’s footsteps.
“Previously Finchley was a tatty old place. When I was playing, we used to meet in a dusty, dingy gym and there was a bloke called Arthur who used to serve cheese sandwiches and pints behind the bar.
“We’ve always had Lord’s, which is a selling point, but we’ve now got three venues we can be proud of.”
During Fraser’s playing career, many of the mainstays of Middlesex’s first team – Mike Gatting, Phil Tufnell and Paul Weekes – were drawn from the county’s traditional heartland around north and west London.
And the Middlesex chief accepts that the county cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they want to lure tomorrow’s most promising youngsters to Lord’s as well.
“I was chatting with Mike Atherton during the summer and he asked what our players coming through were like,” Fraser recalled. “I said ‘we’ve got some nice young cricketers coming through’.
“Being Athers, he said ‘well, you should have. If counties like Middlesex aren’t producing players we might as well all go home’.
“There’s a huge interest in cricket in north-west London and there’s a big population. Sadly there’s not a lot of schools’ cricket played inside the North Circular.
“So you go out to the primary schools and the grammar schools in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire. But we’re not complacent enough to think these are our territories and ours only.
“You’ve got parents in Hertfordshire looking towards Chelmsford. What you offer kids has to run deeper than nice pictures on the wall – there’s got to be a sense that your son or daughter is going to get coached as they need.
“We took a lot of pleasure from Ravi Patel coming into the first team at the end of last year and taking 14 wickets in three games. Other young players like Ollie Wilkin and Gurjit Sandhu also showed what they could do.
“If you’ve got a contract in an academy at a big Premier League football club, it might look good – but, if the centre-forward gets injured, they’re not going to bring you in, they’re going to sign someone else from Spain, Argentina or somewhere. Cricket doesn’t work like that.”
As well as resurfacing the training area, setting up new practice nets and better lighting at Finchley, the county have also appointed a former professional, Alan Coleman, to oversee their new youth structure.
Assisted by Rory Coutts, he is in charge of identifying the best boys and girls in borough and regional cricket and moving them on to the county squads for ages 10-17.
Boys are then selected for Middlesex’s emerging player programme, directly below the ‘elite’ squad of just 14 in the academy for 15 to 19-year-olds, while girls can move through four age groups to join the senior women’s side.
Coleman, who grew up in Feltham and attended a non-cricket playing state school, emerged from club cricket with Wycombe House and then Eastcote to make four first-class appearances for the county.
And the 28-year-old, who has succeeded Graeme West as Middlesex’s head of youth cricket, is keen to emphasise that a route to the first team is open to youngsters from all backgrounds.
“It’s very much a pyramid system,” said Coleman. “We’ve been working towards establishing a clear pathway and that isn’t just for boys who go to public school – far from it.
“I want boys from all backgrounds, whether they’re from Hounslow or Tower Hamlets, Enfield or Richmond. If they’re playing good cricket, being competitive and enjoying the game, hopefully we can help them be the best they can be.
“We’re very much a product of how good our clubs are – we’re reliant on them delivering good coaching to their young players or our standard will obviously drop.
“At senior level, Ollie Wilkin was signed on the back of his performances for Ealing Cricket Club, and we’ve already seen how successful he could potentially be.
“We don’t look at wins and losses, it’s all about producing players. I’ll be judged in years to come by how many we get through the system to play professional cricket for Middlesex.”