Juniors The Future As Australia Dominates Rankings

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Photo By: Ian Bird http://www.ianbirdphotography.com

No matter where you look – the Ashes whitewash, the domination of South Africa, the resurgence of Mitchell Johnson – the baggy green has lately been the focus of attention throughout the highest echelons of world cricket.

But as history shows, the current run of success cannot be taken for granted. As Australia begins another climb up the ladder of the world rankings, one cannot forget the long and arduous road they have already trodden. It’s only in hindsight that a number of disappointing losses, along with the internal conflict that led to the sacking of former coach Mickey Arthur (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-24/arthur-sacked-as-australia-coach-reports/4775760), can be viewed as having laid the groundwork for the team Australia has today.

These patches in form raise the question: what is being done about junior level development to build preventative measures against such lulls in performance? With Australia striving to remain a dominant force in the cricketing world, there is going to have to be an influx of pre-developed juniors coming through the ranks to keep the momentum going forward.

One club attempting to bring through these future stars is Manly Cricket Club.

Manly has branded their initiative the ‘Manly for Manly’ program. This program, which commenced this year, involves engaging juniors at an early stage so as to develop them both on and off the field.

Manly believes that promoting these young athletes to be involved with the club in the early stages of their career will set the platform for a breed of talented cricketers to come through the ranks. Within this initiative, the club offers free coaching clinics to junior cricketers, in which experienced grade cricketers closely assist in the development of these young men, and aid their transition into more mature players. These clinics include coaching staff running drills at the picturesque Manly Oval, and the allocation of the top 30 Manly players to local clubs to aid in their training.

Australian, New South Wales and Manly all-rounder, Stephen O’Keefe, was full of praise for the program. Asked whether he thought it was a good initiative for the development of junior cricketers, he said, “Yes I definitely agree it is. While playing sport, it’s important to have balance in life, and the Manly initiative takes a holistic view of the cricketer, which I think can only benefit on and off the field.”

Club involvement off the field includes volunteering for community and charity events. Past examples have included spending time with Stewart House, fundraising for charities ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Movember’, and participating in the Manly ‘Relay For Life’.

“[It’s] a brilliant driving force for the progression of young careers,” says Australian and Tasmanian representative, and Manly junior, Jackson Bird. “With demand for players coming through the ranks being so high, programs such as this could be the key to a more developed future of Australian cricket.”

The initiative has also received backing from State MP for Manly, Mike Baird. “This program is another example of the club’s valuable contribution to the community,” he said. “ The Junior Club Association in particular is a great initiative, as it enables the senior players to lead and inspire the players of the future.”

Overall, most observers agree there is tremendous potential in the ‘Manly for Manly program’, and particularly in its connection with the club’s ‘Pathway Program’, which focuses on creating a viable way for more mature cricketers in their adolescent stages to break into grade cricket. The programs received resounding superlatives from Manly First Grade captain and former New South Wales representative Tim Cruikshank, who described them as, “one of the best junior development strategies in Australia.” This was particularly important, he said, in a sport which “relies so heavily on the continued production on of juniors for the game to flourish.”

Can Manly’s development strategy become the catalyst for more clubs to increase junior development? And will it be the answer to Australia’s exhaustion of playing options in coming years? Only through time will we find out.

Sam Alexander

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