Youngster making his mark May 2, 2006

Northeast heading in right direction



Sam Northeast batting for Harrow at Lord's last summer © Martin Williamson
Although not part of the official tour schedule, Sri Lanka played a match today against a Getty XI in the idyllic setting of Wormsley, Buckinghamshire. It would have been a light-hearted, social, affair but for one young batsman it was further recognition of someone expected to go a long way in the game.

Sam Northeast, 16, who has been prolific for Harrow School and already made a mark for Kent 2nd XI, lined up alongside more household names such as Graeme Hick. But he was far from overawed as he struck a fine 62 against some of the bowlers who will front up at Lord's next Thursday.

However, for many, his innings will not come as a huge surprise. His progress has been charted from early school days where he broke records galore. If the hype is to be believed Northeast won't remain anonymous for much longer.

When he left Wellesley House in Broadstairs, his prep school, he'd racked up 19 centuries during his last term and earned a sport scholarship to Harrow. He played for the first XI at Lord's when he was just 14 and, last summer, scored 96 on his Kent 2nd XI against a Derbyshire attack including Chris Schofield and Travis Friend.

"Playing at Lord's was a wonderful experience but probably making 96 for Kent against Derbyshire has been by best moment so far," Northeast said late last year after picking up the Gray-Nicolls Trophy for the most outstanding school cricketer. "I played alongside Martin Saggers and he just showed his class."

Northeast's path to first-class cricket is laid out in front of him, with only GCSE exams standing in the way, but he still recalls the day he witnessed one of the world's worst recent tragedies. He was on tour in Sri Lanka with Harrow, and practising at Galle, when the tsunami struck. The quick thinking of Simon Halliday, their coach, saved the day but Northeast still thinks about it.

"It crosses my mind now quite a few times how fortunate I have been and although I do not think it has changed me, I still find it hard to talk about," he told The Times earlier this week. "A very strong bond was created between that team."

He is certainly not a one-sport man, or boy, and still has the tough decision to make as to whether he leaves behind rugby. Roger Uttley, the former England coach who now works at Harrow, believes he could go far with the oval ball, too.

The signs are, though, that cricket will be the one. David Parsons, England's new spin coach, who worked with Northeast at Loughborough, told The Times that he has star quality. "Sam is one of the most exciting talents and there is no reason why he should not go far. A fantastic ball player, very fit and a stroker of the ball rather than a hitter. He is Michael Vaughan-esque."

Those are views echoed by his Kent coach Paul Farbrace. "Sam is extremely talented but the thing that has struck me is his mental strength, he doesn't get fazed by anything. He is very focussed at what he wants to achieve but remains level-headed at the same time. If he continues to develop there is certainly a Test cricketer in the making."

The word is that he will have played first team for Kent before this season is out, then it will be a case of balancing academic life with his playing career. It is easy to load young players with unfair levels of expectation but, so far, Northeast has taken everything in his stride. Watch this space.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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