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Alex Loudon: Richly talented

Alex Loudon, young, gifted and loaded, aims to give critics a serious run for their money

During rain-breaks and dull periods of play cricketers often kill time in the dressing-room by picking teams. Not so much England's for the first Test against Australia in July, or the World XI that will take on Ricky Ponting's all conquering Aussies in October. More like the Fat XI, the Ugly XI, the Bald XI and the Jazz-Hat XI.

During rain-breaks and dull periods of play cricketers often kill time in the dressing-room by picking teams. Not so much England's for the first Test against Australia in July, or the World XI that will take on Ricky Ponting's all conquering Aussies in October. More like the Fat XI, the Ugly XI, the Bald XI and the Jazz-Hat XI.

It was childish but it used to provide the Middlesex dressing-room I played in with hours of fun. Mike Gatting regularly captained one of these sides and Kim "No" Barnett was usually put in charge of the team containing those who were follically challenged. But the easiest leader to pick was the captain of the Jazz-Hat XI. Eton College has produced very few county cricketers and Matthew Fleming, the former Kent and England all-rounder, was always the first name on the list.

Fleming was in no way your typical professional cricketer. His family owns a bank, his great-uncle Ian Fleming was the author of James Bond and he will never be short of a few quid. Indeed, on one occasion he took a journalist to one side after reading a match, in which the correspondent described Fleming having "batted like a millionaire" during his time at the crease.

"You missed one word out in this morning's piece," Fleming said.

"And what was that?"

"Multi," replied Fleming.

Alex Loudon, the 24 year-old Warwickshire all-rounder, is not in Fleming's league, but it would be fair to say that his financial future is pretty sound. The Old Etonian was being tipped as a future captain of Kent before his controversial winter move to the Midlands, but he can take solace from the fact that his pedigree has made him a strong candidate for Fleming's old job.

Ever since the days of Gentleman and Players, when members of the same county used to change in different dressing-rooms according to whether they were being paid or not, England's public and private schools have provided the game with high-quality players and the numbers are only likely to increase if cricket continues to be overlooked at state schools.

Fixtures at these schools were cut by an estimated 70 per cent in the 1980s, when many teachers refused to supervise after-school sport, and the majority have been lost. In 2004, most regular, competitive matches were played by the seven per cent of children who attend private schools.

Thankfully, what was basically a class divide no longer exists, and most professional cricket dressing-rooms now contain a healthy mix of players from every social background.

But the discrimination that once took place has not been totally forgotten and during my career public schoolboys tended to cop far more flak than those from a working-class background when the banter was flying.

Envy was the main reason. Many young players felt those from private schools, and universities, received preferential treatment. Their motivation was also questioned and it was felt they would play around in the game for a couple of years before going into the City and earning a fortune.

They were completely wrong, of course. During the 19 years I spent with Middlesex nobody worked harder at their game than Andrew Strauss, Ben Hutton and Jamie Dalrymple, three young players who came to the club via Radley College and university.

At the end of the second day's play of Warwickshire's current Championship match against Kent, after waiting for him to finish an extra session working on his bowling I asked Loudon what his motivation was.

"It is the challenge of pursuing a talent," he said. "You can have cerebral talent or physical talent and cricket is something I have always played and done OK at. The challenge of seeing how good you can be is something that I want to undertake. On the path from school to university I was always playing cricket and as an immediate career it was there for me. It was something I always wanted to do and I will take it year by year."

Loudon seemed uneasy talking about his upbringing, the benefits that came with it and the fortunate position he is in. He does not lack confidence and his attitude to cricket was very similar to the one I encountered while working with England' s Andrew Strauss, who had offers to work in the City when he left Durham University.

"I am not looking to elongate my career, and make sure it lasts 10 years," he said. "I want to see how far I go in as short a time as possible, and while I still feel I can make progress I will carry on playing. I don't want to hang around. There is lots of other stuff I would like to do but at the moment cricket is my first choice."

Loudon has publicly stated that he will review his cricket career in two years' time, but this is not for financial reasons. A position in the City would earn him far more than the £30,000 a year he currently takes home but it is the prospect of using the degree he gained at Durham University and going into business that appeals to him. The financial world appeals to him and he intends to gain further qualifications during the winter. This is so he can "keep the brain active" and learn more about the world of finance.

"What is progress for me will change," he said, when I enquired what targets he will be setting himself during this period. "At the moment it is getting some runs and taking my first Championship wicket, which hasn't yet happened. People can talk about figures but for me it is about potential and how far I think I can go.

"I feel I can go further and that is why I am playing. The ultimate is always to represent your country but at the moment that is way, way off. I have just moved to a new club and I am adjusting to the move. If I am still playing in two years' time, then what is successful will be entirely different from what it is now. Success now is earning the respect of my team-mates by putting in some good performances when I get the opportunities."

Loudon realises his good fortune, but the prospect of walking into a good job in the City when he has had enough has not diminished his ambition to succeed on the cricket field.

"When I was young I could see people looking at me and thinking: does he really want it? But I am now 24 and I think people now realise that I have options and I am not doing this for fun. The position I am in can work both ways. Everyone has options but if you have clear options then you are less likely to stagnate, or not put in 100 per cent. These probably make it easier for me to throw the dice. Obviously the great players don't need to throw the dice, but it is a shame if your sole reason for playing is to extend your career. It is fun to express yourself and to see how good you can be, which is what I am trying to do."

Loudon is unlikely to make his fortune playing cricket, but his days spent playing it will probably turn out to be the richest of his working career.