I thought about having a look at how the age group set-up supports the national side. In an ideal world there would be a steady stream of players progressing through the age groups and going on to represent their country at the highest level. Obviously in reality it never runs this smoothly, but for England it makes for interesting viewing. Between 2000 and 2008, exactly 100 players represented the England U19s youth test side. I chose this time frame as firstly I couldn't face looking further back than 2000, and secondly this puts all of the players in the 20-30 age bracket - ripe for test selection. Of these 100 players, 13 have gone on to play test cricket.
On the face of it, this is an ok-ish return. 1 in 8 making the test grade sounds about right. It looks even better - amongst these 13 players are Anderson, Broad, Finn, Cook and Prior, all current English test players. Also included are Bell, Panesar and Bresnan.
However, the other names do not make for such pleasant viewing:
Ravi Bopara - 10 tests.
Liam Plunkett - 9 tests.
Chris Tremlett - 3 tests.
Kabir Ali - 1 test.
James Tredwell - 1 test.
To be honest only Bopara and possibly Tremlett can hold any hope of playing test matches again, whilst Panesar too will be concerned about his own test prospects. Therefore I believe that the recent history of the England U19s should be looked upon with slight disappointment. Yes it has provided us with a very decent pace attack, but apart from that it's only other products that are enjoying proper runs in the test side are an under-fire opener and a wicketkeeper who very much divides opinion. The last three England U19s players to play test cricket have been Finn, Broad and Cook, showing that the yet more recent history is even worse.
So where should the blame lie for this apparent lack of successful player movement through the age groups? In my opinion it is not down to just one factor. Firstly I don’t think that the ECB do enough to monitor and develop players and use the age groups enough to their advantage. The latest trick appears to be naming half the English qualified county players in groups according to where they fit into the test tree.
This is all good and well if these players have been assessed in development squads and A teams throughout their careers, but this season’s lists have shown how wide of the mark they in fact are. For example, the ‘A’ bracket, i.e. players on the very cusp of the test team, consists of four players – Carberry, Moore, Amjad Khan and Mahmood. Out of those four only Carberry has shown any sort of form or fitness this season to warrant a mention at selection meetings.
The players’ counties must also take some criticism though. An argument could be made, and is made by some, that the kolpak ruling is not allowing young players to spend enough time in their county first XIs so as to develop their own game. To an extent this holds some truth – the journeyman kolpak players that aren’t as good as most of the county squads end up filling in gaps as a cheaper solution. However, quality kolpaks can do wonders for a young player’s development, and so there is very much a place for them in the game.
Likewise the increased number of player transfers between counties is making it more and more difficult for homegrown players to cement a place in the side, and is vindictive of the quick-fix success sought after by many counties in search of trophies and Division One status. The thought of developing a team of homegrown players, though appealing to every county, is not financially viable for many and so these players will suffer.
The U19s as a concept is an absolutely fantastic idea of course. It gets a group of relatively unknown, unproven young talents together on a tour and it teaches them to take on responsibility and pressure they would never otherwise face back home. I think that the ECB need to get a better understanding of how to handle players that have played for the U19s team and help them progress smoothly, whilst the counties must realise the long term benefits of having these players in their side. If this can be done then fewer players will fall through the net available to carry them into the test team.
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