Northamptonshire’s most promising young cricketers are tapping into the expertise of the club’s first-team coaches this winter.
And head coach David Ripley says that’s just the way it should be.
The recent merger between NCCC and Northants Recreational Cricket (NRC) further strengthens the long-time policy of a genuine player pathway, stretching from the county’s age-group squads to first-class level.
“That pathway has always been close to our hearts and it’s something we’re very proud of,” says Ripley.
“Growing that base is vital so we get the quality of players we need coming through to the top. I coach at the EPP (Emerging Player Programme) and Academy sessions, as do Phil Rowe and David Sales, and of course having Kevin Innes really getting his teeth into everything we do from the Academy downwards is very important for us.
“Let’s be honest – not everyone in our system is going to be a professional cricketer. But if you look around the league clubs every weekend you see guys captaining sides, scoring lots of runs, taking lots of wickets and perhaps playing in Minor Counties cricket – and that’s still a big part of what we should be doing at Northamptonshire.”
Ripley’s own coaching career began while he was still an active first-class player. Indeed, he was the club’s captain when the NCCC Academy was formally launched (with just five ‘senior’ and two ‘junior’ cricketers in the first intake) at Wantage Road during the winter of 2000-1.
“We’ve come a long way since then. As a club, we were in there early when academies were coming into being around the country, with lots of good work done by Richard Smith (NCCC Academy’s first director), Bob Carter and David Capel at the start.
“Since then it’s ebbed and flowed as we’ve varied the number of players involved, and we think we’ve now come up with a format that gives us the best chance of bringing players through.
“Having the Lynn Wilson Indoor Centre available to us is a big help. Some counties are battling without a facility like that, and it must be a difficult job trying to run a programme at different sites.”
Although working with the staff professionals obviously remains Ripley’s top priority, he admits the additional challenge of helping to develop the next generation of Northamptonshire cricketers is one he relishes.
“It’s important for me to be visible. I just turn up at the sessions and get told what I’m doing and who I’m working with, and away we go! It takes me back to when I started coaching about 25 years ago – because the best bit then was always connecting with young people and hopefully helping them to improve their game.
“I would like to think that’s one of our strengths as a ‘family’ club. We all work top-to-bottom, we know the kids in the system, we know their parents, and that’s what we’re about.
“We just want as many of our young cricketers as possible coming through the set-up and playing here for Northamptonshire.”
One of those talented youngsters, Academy cricketer James Cronie, has just landed another major award.
James – who claimed the Dorothy Radd Memorial Shield as the county’s outstanding performer in national age-group competitions in 2018 – has now been honoured with the English Schools Cricket Association’s AA Thomson Award for fielding.
He will receive it at The Oval next March.
James is certainly in illustrious company; past winners, since 1968, include the likes of Graham Barlow, Geoff Miller, Paul Parker, Kim Barnett, Graham Thorpe and James Taylor, all future England Test cricketers, plus (in 1996) Northamptonshire’s Tim Roberts.
To find out more about the Player Pathway please contact Luke Pomfret, Senior Development Coach, at firstname.lastname@example.org.