Exclusive: Hampshire aid Australia in bid for Ashes rule

County will provide finishing school for rivals' next generation at summer academy

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The Independent Online

Hampshire have announced a ground-breaking deal with Cricket Australia under which the county will act as a finishing school for the country's best young players.

Starting next season, Australia's brightest young Under-19 talent will spend the summer with Hampshire while also playing for clubs in the Southern Electric Premier League.

In an exclusive interview with Independent Sport, the Hampshire chairman, Rod Bransgrove, said the new agreement would mean the county helping to develop Australia's next generation of talent and revealed that talks were under way with other countries, including India and Sri Lanka, to put similar arrangements in place.

The move will effectively establish Hampshire as a global academy during the summer months, when most countries are in their off-season.

Although the players will not turn out for Hampshire's Academy or Second XI, the county will take on responsibility for areas such as strength, conditioning and skill development while also monitoring players' performances for clubs in the county's top league.

"For many years we've all got quite used to sending our players off to Australia, South Africa and India," Bransgrove said, "so it makes sense to speak to national governing bodies about bringing their best young players to England and for us to assist in their development.

"The qualification is that these players must have at least played for Australia at Under-19 level," he added. "We would use roughly the same parameter for Sri Lankans or Indians, or other countries we're talking to at the moment.

"Whilst they're high-performance or high-potential players they may be a step or two away from being a first-choice overseas county player. From a Cricket Australia point of view they're looking to send cricketers that can then move relatively seamlessly into their Australia A side."

At a time when England have finally got the upper hand against their oldest rivals, there will doubtless be some who view the move as a way of handing the advantage back to Australia. But Bransgrove believes the county is merely fulfilling the role that countless club sides Down Under have carried out in the past.

"I remember stories from people like Robin Smith and Alec Stewart about how they completed their development playing club cricket in Western Australia," he said. "We've sent our young players out to the [Darren] Lehmann Academy and Paul Terry Academy in Australia in the past.

"For many, many years the Aussies have been helping us and at the end of the day it's a pretty myopic view that, wherever the sun shines in the world, people should be stopped from playing there just because of their nationality.

"If our young players were stopped from playing cricket in Australia it would be a catastrophe so I really don't see a problem with it. We're really just providing a part of the overall development programme for young cricketers," he added. "I see it as a part of our overall responsibility as a cricket club."

Certainly, clubs in the county's Premier League are set to benefit. Next week they will be invited to put forward their case for taking one of the first intake of scholars this summer, all six of whom will be funded by Cricket Australia through the Kerry Packer Foundation. How the players are allocated is still up for discussion, but one idea is to use the model of the US draft system.

"For those clubs who traditionally appoint an overseas or a professional player over the summer, they will be taking one of these scholarship players and playing them throughout their competitive season," said Bransgrove. "One of the things we won't be able to do is to provide prescriptive players to clubs who want a particular kind of player. There will be an element of randomisation about it."