As the cats’ chorus that is the team karaoke in La Manga’s Last Drop bar brought down the curtain on the fourth Tom Maynard Academy, we reflect on another successful programme with another wonderful group of players: nine days of hard work, technical and physical, laced with a healthy dose of laughter and fun.
Once again it was a nervy group of twelve young county and aspiring county players who gathered at Birmingham Airport as the rather predictably-named Cohort 4. There were several who had played county cricket but there wasn’t an enormous amount of county cricket experience across the group.
There were a couple of changes to the management team this time, too. Mark Wallace, in between jobs after retiring from a long and distinguished Glamorgan playing career but yet to take up his new position with the PCA, came in for Paul Nixon as one of the two support coaches, Nico being unavailable. We also had a new physio, as Gary Metcalfe, one of Somerset’s team of physios, came in for Dean Conway, who was also unavailable.
They were joined by Mark Garaway (“Garas”), again providing some psychological profiling for the twelve lads on the trip and, as in the two previous years, his contribution extended beyond his area of expertise as he kept the management team entertained throughout his five day stay. And one of these days he will actually stay for the full duration of the trip…
The rest of the management group was as in 2015, with Ian Harvey coaching alongside Wally and Matthew Maynard, Jamie Dalrymple again providing expertise on the psychology of leadership and team dynamics – along with informal advice on vocabulary and etiquette – and the tour manager, Mike Fatkin, who, let’s be honest, was there essentially just to pay the bills and do a bit of running around. Well, when we say ‘running around’….
Unlike his beloved football team, Andy House once again lived up to his reputation as he ferried folk back and forth to the airport at often unsocial hours, without so much of a hint of a complaint. In fact his only complaints were about Tottenham’s inability to beat Gent in the Europa League (I promised myself I’d give that a mention somewhere, and, yes, I’m fully aware that it’s a ridiculously cheap and unnecessary shot). It’s been said every year, but every group trip should have an Andy House. He’s a diamond.
Ian Harvey was again a magnificent foil for Matt, supporting the bowlers throughout the visit; he never fails to make a significant contribution to the group. His range and knowledge of the English language must be growing with every passing year, too, as he never once rang the ‘I-don’t-know-what-that-word-means’ bell during Jamie Dalrymple’s talk. Progress. Or perhaps JD is just that little bit more down-wiv-da-kidz these days. But then again…. I did catch Harv out with some Latin, though, so his Australian/Latin translations require a little more homework.
This year there were two bike rides, one an early morning pre-breakfast run with some races on the beach. In 2016 there had been broken chains and clattering gears galore but this time there was just the one alarm when Ollie ‘Olympic Torch’ Currill’s chain apparently broke, only to find that upon inspection is was fine and perhaps just masquerading as an excuse for poor performance. Ollie’s energy throughout the week was impressive. He even seemed to be refereeing all of the warm-up activities even though Gary was present as official referee, complete with whistle.
The second ride also included a halfway stop for a team go-karting activity, minus the two Welsh lads – Oli Pike and Connor Brown – as they were studying hard (bright lads, the Welsh, of course). The remaining ten, along with the Head Coach and the Physio, went head to head over fifteen minutes of qualifying to determine pole position. Graham Clark, a very late replacement for his unfortunate injured Durham team-mate James Weighill, emerged on top, with the Physio a disappointing four seconds behind eleventh as he brought up the rear. The race itself, a ten minute burst of barging, bumping and hurtling around corners, was a riot of incidents, Surrey’s Rafeh Jadri being forced to retire hurt after an incident at the top of the track involving Ollie Currill. Most of the fines for the whole trip seemed to centre on the poor quality of driving, put it that way. Clarky cruised through as the winner, followed by, respectively, Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon in second and Lewis Gregory in third, just nudging out his Somerset team-mate Ryan Davies. The Head Coach, who would have been disqualified by Harv and Mike anyway had he got anywhere near a podium position, managed to slip from sixth after qualifying to seventh in the race. Gaz Metcalfe, the not-so-flying-Phys, successfully – and comfortably – held on to last place.
The football warm-up matches were a feature of the trip. Gaz didn’t opt for Dean Conway’s secret method of splitting the teams up but went instead for the classic ‘North v South’. Only to find that this meant the two Gloucestershire lads ending up as members of the North team. The Cotswolds obviously extend a lot further up than we all believed.
In the second game, with Mark Wallace deputizing for Josh Bohannon, who had an ankle niggle, Wally was beaten in goals at the near post. He claimed that the last time this had happened was way back playing against Llandrindod Wells Under-10s, but the rest of the group had their suspicions when it happened on a further two occasions. Work needed, Wal.
The first two matches resulted in one win apiece so the decider, held before the final net session, promised to be a high level confrontation. After the first half, the South were leading 2-0, the only major incident of note being the injury to the Head Coach, who failed to see the wire on top of the fence as he retrieved a(nother) wayward Jamie Porter shot which had flown out of the compound. Quite what a dozen active and agile young men were doing allowing a 50-year-old to take on a concentration camp style perimeter fence is something only they know…
There must have been some strong words and a bit of tea cup hurling in the brief half time huddle because the North, spearheaded by the Leicestershire David Silva, Harry Dearden, and egged on by their own inside cheerleader and commentator, Ollie Currill (of the North Cotswolds), came storming back with four unanswered second half goals to take the spoils.
Gaz took over the lads’ fitness work, though they were encouraged to follow their own individual programmes away from the cricket at the gym on site. In fairness there was never any quibbling and the boys worked hard. Gaz is a strong lad. You wouldn’t mess with him even if you wanted to. If anyone has seen the film The Admirable Crichton then you will immediately understand the sort of resourceful personality Gary has. He cleaned up other people’s kitchens as he went and was always one step ahead of you when you wanted something; his medical bag contained so much you half imagined it had to be borrowed from Mary Poppins. His standards were so high he would have been good enough to be butler chez Dalrymple.
Garas’s work was again focused on action profiling for the players, helping them understand where they might be able to bring about a few basic improvements to stance, fielding position, eye alignment and the like. It’s highly technical geeky stuff, and Garas develops into more of a geek with every passing year. The man is an educational sponge. This year he brought a small carry-on luggage case down to nets, which either contained a seriously large wallet or demonstrated a panache not hitherto associated with the Isle of Wight’s leading wicket-keeper batsman. It turned out to be a prop to help demonstrate some of the profiling, but it took us a while to work that out.
As with everything we do on the Academy Garas’s work is designed to provide the participating players with some tools, something to think about. They are free to take whatever elements they like, and what they believe would work for them and go away and work on them with their county coaches back home in the UK.
Like the football the team golf was also competitive. Split into the team villas, the standard was, shall we say, varied. From Lewis Gregory’s single handicap talents right the way down to the bandits and remedials playing in the other groups, we had the full range of abilities. Graham Clark may have been the fastest driver in the go-karting but he certainly wasn’t the longest driver in the golf. His tee shot on the first went a full ten yards sideways and eventually came to rest around eight inches in front of the tee marker. And as the two lads before him had gone out of bounds he was at that point still the holder of the longest drive. From what we saw on the way round the standard didn’t exactly pick up, and there was controversy in the clubhouse as Asher Hart revealed a dangerously big downward turn in handicap over the previous eighteen months, and then a couple of his team mates admitted that they hadn’t actually been 100% sure of the scoring for things such as out of bounds or lost balls. The fact that it would have been the management team who would have won in their place made for an uneasy atmosphere around the dinner table that evening, especially as the tour manager was droning on about his birdie on the 18th long into the night…
The end of the week saw the group decamp to La Manga up the coast and play two T20 matches against a Spanish XI. The Trust, led by Somerset’s Lewis Gregory, won both matches comfortably, Connor Brown scoring 63 and taking 3-16 in the first one, well supported by Harry Dearden with the bat. The second featured the first century since the Academy was first held in 2014. After a rapid 51 from Ryan Davies, Josh Bohannon made 108, including one smashed car windscreen, as the Trust side racked up 210. That feat was repeated in the second game, when one of the Spanish lads also hit a fine hundred and managed to shatter the back windscreen of the car of some of the footballers practising elsewhere on the La Manga complex. We suspect the ground hire charge might go up a little next year….
After the game the fines meeting took place. No one escaped. The manager was fined for taking a selfie when he was supposed to be taking a photo of the go-karting podium; Wally and Garas were fined for managing to get lost on the first bike ride and ending up having to climb a wall to get back into the Desert Springs complex; there were various fines for fast (and slow) driving in the go-karting; but the one obvious one was missed – Jamie Porter should have been fined for making a second appearance on the Academy. And he’s already had the cheek to ask if he can come back again in 2018…
All of which meant the group headed for the last night team meal and the opportunity to hang, draw and quarter whatever songs were available on the Karaoke in high spirits and with lighter wallets. Normally I’d say that Mr Brightside and Angels were highlights. Except they weren’t. They were awful. The group’s singing needs a lot of work. Some of the dancing, however, was something of a surprise, snake-hips Bohannon sliding around the floor like some latter-day Bolton Travolta… a reputation he proceeded to ruin while duetting with one of the karaoke organizers on Summer Nights. At least we think it was supposed to be Summer Nights.
The final night at Desert Springs had seen the hugely popular meal in The Cave, where the management were able to thank the players for their commitment and contribution. There were some great stories from around the table. As in the three previous years, the group worked incredibly hard and, as was also evident at the gathering the following evening at La Manga, they bonded really well too. It’ll be good to follow everyone’s progress during the season. This group knitted together extremely quickly and judging by the acquisition and regular use of new nicknames, we are sure that there have been some friendships established for life.
Debriefs done on the final day, it was time for home. Matt and I would like to thank all the lads for showing a consistently professional attitude throughout their time with us. We hope that they all gained a lot from the experience. We’re also grateful to the management team, especially Harv, Wally and Gaz; the two newbies fitted in seamlessly, with Wally’s contribution as a coach superb. The input of Mark Garaway and Jamie Dalrymple was, as always, invaluable, and a big thank you, too, to Martyn Ryan, the Trust’s Chairman, for generously sponsoring a Chairman’s Drinks evening on the Saturday at Desert Springs, and to our kit sponsor Richard Green of Abbey Glass. Rich’s uncanny ability to fall asleep during the matches was missed but we all congratulate him on his recent engagement to Louise. He’s a great supporter of the Trust and all that we do.
The nets were again very good, and there are positive noises about both a new ground at Desert Springs and an impressive net redevelopment at La Manga. We were also able to welcome a couple of the younger Cricket Espana players to one of the net sessions, which is something we are delighted to do in terms of trying to give something back. At Desert Springs, a big thank you to Ben, Anthony and their team for the quality of the nets and to Ellie, who looked after the meals and for whom nothing was ever too much trouble. We look forward to staying in touch with the lads (though management may now leave the WhatsApp group chat to the youngsters), wishing them all a great summer, and to catching up with everyone again in 2018.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Josh Bohannon (Lancashire), Connor Brown (Glamorgan), Graham Clark (Durham), Ollie Currill (Gloucestershire), Ryan Davies (Somerset), Harry Dearden (Leicestershire), Callum Gregory (Gloucestershire), Lewis Gregory (Somerset), Asher Hart (Hampshire), Rafeh Jadri (Surrey), Oli Pike (Glamorgan) and Jamie Porter (Essex)
Matthew Maynard (Head Coach); Ian Harvey (Coach); Mark Wallace (Coach); Gary Metcalfe (Physiotherapist); Mark Garaway (Personality Profiling); Jamie Dalrymple (Coach/Speaker); Mike Fatkin (Trustee/Speaker)