Young Australians head to Hampshire
Whatever the reluctance of the BCCI to accommodate the developing players of other countries, Hampshire have no such qualms. The club have announced the inaugural draft of players into the Ageas Bowl International Cricket Academy and will host six young Australians throughout the summer of 2013.
The deal between Cricket Australia and Hampshire will see the players - Scott Henry, Travis Head, William Bosisto, Alex Keath, Ashton Turner and Ashton Agar - benefiting from the staff and facilities at the Ageas Bowl during their training as well as appearing in league cricket in the south of England. While the players will gain exposure to English conditions, Hampshire hope that the deal will enhance their reputation as a ground with outstanding facilities and an ideal venue for international sides. The scheme, which is funded by the Kerry Packer Foundation, is also financially profitable to Hampshire, though the club intend to plough the proceeds back into enhancing facilities at their ground.
Some may find it incongruous that Hampshire, like all first-class clubs a beneficiary of ECB funding, should offer such assistance to England's oldest rivals. Certainly it contrasts with the BCCI's recent decision to veto the plans of a number of young England players to train in India and the inclusion of Agar in the Hampshire scheme may prove especially vexing to some.
Agar, 19, a left-arm spinner, was added to Australia's touring part to India in a developmental role, playing against an Indian Board President's XI, and could force his way into the Test team over the next few months. Bosisto, meanwhile, captained an Australia team also featuring Head and Turner at last year's Under-19 World Cup and 24-year-old New South Wales opener Henry made headlines with a double-hundred against the Sri Lankans in December. Hampshire's hospitality could come back to haunt England.
English players have benefited from such opportunities for decades, however. Generations of young players have travelled to Australia, in particular, to play Grade cricket and take advantage of the climate and facilities and Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire's chairman, hopes that the new scheme will be viewed in a similarly "high-minded" manner.
"We have sent cricketers all over the world as part of their development process for years," Bransgrove told ESPNcricinfo. "This is just the same. I'd like to think this will be seen as for the benefit of the game as a whole. I've never done anything in cricket just for the benefit of me or my parish and I'd like to think this is a win-win situation for everyone.
"Every country seeking to develop players wants to use the facilities of other countries in the offseason. 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."
There are important distinctions between the plans of the Hampshire academy and the proposed visit of developing English players to India blocked by the BCCI. Central to the Hampshire scheme is the idea that the visiting players will make a positive contribution to the local game: not only will they appear in local league cricket, without cost to the clubs, but they also all have coaching qualifications that should enable them to provide a mentoring role to developing players in the region. The ECB has confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that they will not make any attempt to block the Australian players' trip.
"I've never been keen on recreational clubs spending money on professional cricketers," Bransgrove said. "This will allow the clubs to benefit from these players without spending a pound and not only raise the standard of the leagues in which they play, but see them performing a mentoring role to developing English players."
The players will each be allocated a club via a draw to take place at the Ageas Bowl on Friday. The participating clubs are Bournemouth CC, Lymington CC, Totton & Eling CC, Ventnor CC (all from the Southern Electric Premier League), Henley CC (Thames Valley Premier League) and Chichester Priory Park CC (Sussex Cricket League). The launch of the International Cricket Academy is the latest development in the progress of Hampshire cricket. A club that was insolvent at the turn of the century now boasts a stadium that hosts international cricket, some of the finest facilities in the country, a viable business plan and a side that won the limited-overs double in 2012.
"I'm overwhelmed with pride as I watch the ground and the club develop," Bransgrove said. "The facilities here just get better and better and, as I witness the scale of our development, it really is watching a dream come true right in front of my eyes. We have a wonderful stadium, and more and more good young players who will be challenging for England places. This club has turned a massive corner and the International Cricket Academy is another step in our progression."
Hampshire hope to extend the scheme in future years and have already opened a dialogue with Sri Lanka Cricket.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo