How to stop stacking the odds against youth

England's batting conundrum: One of the game's greats says the career path for talent needs redrawing

Marcus Trescothick has become an instant success with some stunning one-day performances; and it is justified as well, for he is uncomplicated and shows a good temperament. I like his demeanour. We do, however, have to put it in the context of the benchmark for world cricket - Australia. And Trescothick would not open the batting if Australia were to pick three pairs of openers.

Marcus Trescothick has become an instant success with some stunning one-day performances; and it is justified as well, for he is uncomplicated and shows a good temperament. I like his demeanour. We do, however, have to put it in the context of the benchmark for world cricket - Australia. And Trescothick would not open the batting if Australia were to pick three pairs of openers.

Michael Slater, Greg Blewett, Matthew Elliott, Matthew Hayden, Dene Hills and Ryan Campbell would all be in his way. It is a sobering thought and begs the question of the quality of county cricket,and also of the pathway for young cricketers in England.

Perhaps youth cricket is a starting point. It is an emotional issue, where youth coaches do a wonderful job, as do the organisers and sponsors of a plethora of under-age competitions. Unfortunately it gives them false hope of having made it without really achieving anything in the real world. By design, Australia do not send a team to the Under-15 World Cup. The feeling is that they are being treated as special long before their time. The way Australia are churning out quality players it is hard to argue against.

What should be done will evoke debate, but academies are a starting point and, I think, will work well, but only provided that the right personnel are in place and the work ethic is right.

Weather, facilities and the "pub culture" all conspire against English youth. Couple this with complete apathy at government level, where sport, not just cricket, is treated with utter contempt. The realisation that a healthy participating nation would be a lesser burden on the health system is taking far too long to filter through.

It is a daunting task to overcome the odds, but England must if world cricket is to remain intact. The England and Wales Cricket Board have much to worry about apart from the next television rights.

A structured path is all that is asked. If you sat a 10-year-old down in the "hot" countries, there would be a clear "flow chart" of where to be when. In England, when someone pops up it is by chance more often than not. The counties must spend their TV money on developing the game and not just in propping up the playing staff. There is no time like the present to start. Winds of change have been promised, but so far it has been words more than action.

The present England team blow hot and cold, looking every inch a class side against some opposition, but then succumbing in the same ways when the ante is raised. Much has been written of Andrew Flintoff, some justified and some perhaps a little harsh. But honesty must prevail, and if he looked in the mirror and asked himself: "Am I doing everything possible to set new standards?" the answer would be "No". His results do not reflect his talent.

For all the talking, the players know who is committed and who is weak under pressure. No amount of psychologists will change that - they can help but should not be a crutch. Perhaps over the past five years we have relied too much on new techniques at the expense of the tried and trusted. Pride, dedication and determination are still the requirements of success at international level. Sometimes they can cover for lack of skill, but no amount of spin can cover the bottlers.

In their own ways Darren Gough and Alec Stewart stand out as people who relish an opportunity to be in the hurly-burly. Others seem to fear it. The selectors have limited choices but it is an area which is in need of discussion. The results would be refreshing if everyone was candid about the ability to cope with pressure.

Without wanting to be sucked into the "in our day" syndrome, always an unhealthy situation, it does occur that technique consists of the basics. Head still, eyes focused, into line and a straight bat were probably around for WG Grace, and certainly for the likes of Don Bradman, Denis Compton and Vivian Richards. In our pursuit of excellence and change we sometimes forget what got us there in the first place.

To my mind, some England batsmen are moving too much before the ball is bowled. There will always be slight movement, but the head must be upright and pretty still. Flintoff is caught behind the wicket more often than he should be - is he getting into line? Sometimes Graeme Hick plays back to the short ball from real quicks with the left foot further across than the right, which gets him into trouble. Mark Ramprakash is wracked by self-doubt, which inhibits his strokeplay. One way or another it permeates through a team and you get the impression that players withdraw intotheir own comfort zone instead ofexpanding as a team.

Perhaps county cricket is too comfortable in terms of conditions and lifestyle, and the players are not stretched enough for the next level. Hungry players are competitive players. Competition breeds that, so the ECB are heading in the right direction by splitting the Championship into two divisions. Surelythey are aiming in time at aChampionship with fewer, but more competitive teams.

There are enough committed people to take England back to the top of the world game again. It is harnessing them and pointing everyone in the same direction that is indeed the next challenge.

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