Australia and Hampshire strike academy deal
Cricket Australia and Hampshire Cricket have announced a partnership which will see some of Australia's most talented young cricketers spend the next English summer at the newly-formed Ageas Bowl International Cricket Academy.
The deal confirms Hampshire's status as the host of one of the best-equipped cricket academies in the world and left Rod Bransgrove, the county's cricket chairman and long-time driving force, purring with delight at another sign of progress for the project that has long been his life's obsession.
"Cricket Australia has been an admirer of the Ageas Bowl for some time and we are delighted that they are sending six high-performing young players to the Academy in its inaugural year," Bransgrove said. "We are one of the few professional grounds in the world with two full-sized cricket pitches immediately adjacent to each other which means our outdoor facilities are available even when there is a match on. That is a great advantage. We are a genuine international cricket academy.
"Lord's will always have its tradition and a presence second to none, but our ambition is simply to create the finest ground in the country."
English players have long had the advantages of winter stints in Australia, South Africa and India as part of their overall development and now Hampshire's academy offers an opportunity in reverse which Cricket Australia has been quick to grasp. Hampshire promise access to world-class coaching, sports science and medical staff.
As part of the programme the Australian players will play in the Southern Electric Premier League for the duration of the English domestic cricket season. "That's an extra benefit - that six league clubs get an overseas player free of charge for the whole of the season," said Bransgrove. "I'm not in favour of clubs using their hard-earned funds for recreational players even if they commit to regular coaching and have the club at heart."
Bransgrove has reason to be satisfied. The launch of the academy follows Hampshire's achievement in winning the Friends Life Twenty20 and CB40 tournaments last season and the securing of a £45m investment from Eastleigh Borough Council to secure the final stage in the development of the Ageas Bowl which will include the construction of a 4-star hotel, additional conferencing and hospitality facilities and a state-of-the-art media centre.
Although he has handed over the chief executive role to David Mann after ceaselessly driving Hampshire forward for 12 years, Bransgrove is not the sort for for semi-retirement. "I have taken a back seat in the day-to-day running of the business," he said. "After 12 years the club needed new energy. But I've got so much emotion - and money - wrapped up in it I can't run away."
The partnership will form part of the 2013 Australian Institute of Sport men's cricket programme and The Kerry Packer Foundation will provide scholarships to the selected players.
Pat Howard, Cricket Australia's team performance manager, said: "CA is very excited about this partnership and opportunity for our very best young players. The opportunity to experience cricket in a different country will grow them as players and as people. For those chosen it will be an important part of their development."
English counties have occasionally faced criticism for employing Australian players on short-term contracts ahead of Ashes series but Bransgrove is confident that within the cricket community at least the presence of some of Australia's top young cricketers in Hampshire will be universally seen as a success story. Discussions are also underway with India and Sri Lanka for similar tie-ups.
"The ECB fully recognises that we have a responsibility to maximise our income," he said. "We are talking about the development of young players. Every country seeking to develop players wants to use the facilities of other countries in the off season. For England players not to have the chance to go abroad would be disastrous and it is only right that we reciprocate. I would like to think that cricket can be more high-minded about the development of young cricketers."
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo