Unsung heroes of the 18 first-class counties gathered at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough this week as momentum gathers over new plans to support the County Talent Pathway.

The counties and the ECB united in their support of ‘Cricket Unleashed’ on the crucial importance of developing home-grown players for county and international cricket, using the network of 18 first-class counties and 21 non-first class counties.

That led in the spring of 2017 to the appointment of Alun Powell, who had previously worked in both codes of rugby, as the ECB’s new National Talent Manager for men’s cricket.

And now, one year on, Powell assembled the Academy Directors from the first-class counties to outline details of the Talent Map, the ECB’s strategy to support the County Talent Pathway.

“It was a really significant and uplifting day for those of us at the ECB involved with the County Talent Pathway and I hope the guys who made the effort to attend from the counties at such a busy time of year would agree,” said Powell.

“They have such important roles back at their counties and therefore for us at the ECB. The great thing for me was to see their enthusiasm to enhance the system and their desire to play a key part in the changes we’re making.

“I think there’s major value in them all getting together. We had formal sessions sharing best practice and talking about a wide variety of relevant areas, from player recruitment, programming of support for talented players, age-group competitions and partnerships with key stakeholders such as non-first class counties and Higher Education.

“But it’s just as valuable for the 18 guys to have that time to talk informally. There’s a hell of a lot of experience and knowledge in the room – guys who will be familiar names from their own playing careers in county cricket, former teachers and coaches, and many of whom have a number of years in academy environments.

“The Academy Directors are doing great work, and we want to improve the support we provide to them. Through our Regional Talent Managers, we will have a much greater presence in the academies and will support the delivery of coach development, parent education, and the Academy Director with their planning and delivery of pathway programmes.

“We’re working towards 2025 as the stated goal to have established a game-wide, connected and world-renowned talent pathway. This 2018-20 period is all about establishing the foundations, as a key part of the new County Partnership Agreement – and taking in various key strands of Cricket Unleashed such as our South Asian Strategy to increase the reach of our counties.”

Northants’ Academy Director, Kevin Innes, caught up with us after the meeting: “This was our first meeting of the year as a group of academy directors. It is always great to catch up with many familiar faces and discuss the winter actives and pick each other’s brains on how the programmes are working. We covered many different subjects throughout the day and everyone had their chance to contribute at any time to add value to the discussions.

“There was plenty of open sharing of programmes between everyone which was great to see as sometimes coaches don’t like to give away too many ideas or secrets as they think it will keep them one step ahead of the opposition but it felt like everyone was eager to express how things worked at their county which was refreshing to see and hear. Many counties do things differently due to the size of the County and the resources they have available to run their programmes.

“We had discussions around the new competitions and formats for 9-12 year olds. This year they will be playing on shorter pitches. This will help the bowlers to avoid straining to get the ball down the other end and also it will hopefully make the ball come onto the bat easier. All in all it will hopefully promote a better style of play for the youngsters.  

“Other areas we discussed were around expanding our talent pool, especially in the south Asian community, working with minor counties to make it easier for those players to integrate into first class counties. Also, how we can potentially work with universities to have a two-way link to tap into the graduates and use their expertise for our programmes.

“There was also a lot of communication and interest for overseas tours which all counties do to add to their academy programmes. In the past I have taken our EPP to India and Dubai which was an amazing experience for all who went. I am keen to bring this alive for the academy for February of next year and have already been in discussion with other counties for different options to get the maximum quality practice and game programme for our players.”

The day also included a presentation from Ben Jones from the Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance at Bangor University in North Wales, outlining the findings of a project he has been working on with the ECB’s spin-bowling lead Peter Such investigating the characteristics of county and England spin bowlers.