Desert Springs, Spain – February 13-22, 2014
First posting, around halfway through what is the inaugural Tom Maynard Academy, taking place at the Desert Springs resort, in South East Spain, and it’s high time there was some news from the front line…
The first thing to say is that we have a really fabulous group to work with. Eleven lads, drawn from eight of the first class counties: a real mix of characters and personalities, with ages ranging from 16 through to mid-20s. Although there were a few of the boys who had met prior to the trip, it was mainly a case of ‘getting to know you’ at a wild and windy Birmingham airport and over the course of the first 24 hours. But sitting here, on the morning of day five, it’s clear that the lads have bonded and there is a wonderful camaraderie within from the group. Work has been hard, both in the nets and away from them on the various fitness programmes, with the odd fierce bouncer, but the spirit is excellent, and there has been plenty of time for relaxation. The laughter has grown steadily louder and become more prolonged as the week has gone on.
The support we’ve had on the ground has been absolutely brilliant. Desert Springs is a great place to seclude yourselves away as a group. The resort has everything we need and what very little we’ve had to hunt out, or when lifts are required, Andy House of Sport Europe pops up like some latter-day Mr Benn (kids – ask your parents), ever-willing, no task being too much. The facilities are very good and the food has been great. There hasn’t been one complaint. Not even a grumble.
The local groundsman at Desert Springs, Anthony (and to call him just ‘groundsman’ when he’s designed over a dozen golf courses seems a little insulting), was a bit nervous as the party made the short journey down to the net area. He and his team had been working on new grass nets for several months and with Sussex due out for some pre-season training in a few weeks’ time, the Academy lads were effectively christening them and giving everything a bit of a dry run. Matt was very reassuring, though, and there was no real need for nerves anyway. The surfaces played well enough. In fact the facilities, with so much space for fielding, room for kit, bowling machine and pretty much all you’d need for a small group practicing outdoors for the first time that year, were close to spot on. No question of there being any need to look elsewhere for 2015, anyway. Everything we need for a group of cricketers working outdoors early in the year is right here.
The lads each have their own individual programmes, with the bowlers on their own limitations in terms of what workload they ought to be hitting this far ahead of the pre-season with their counties. Two of them – George Edwards and Fynn Hudson-Prentice – are coming back from injuries, so the ten days for them was especially important. Matt and Alex Tysoe, our physio for the first half of the trip, were aware of what each individual was supposed to be focusing on, both in terms of individual cricketing game plan and with regard to their own fitness programmes. And the boys didn’t need any telling to go to the gym. To a man, they have been working really hard.
In addition to the net sessions, there has been a heavy emphasis on fielding. Slip catching on day two saw the group manage a pretty impressive 27 catches in succession. Ian Harvey’s ‘nicking’ is so accurate that he can pretty much pick out any of the fielders in the circle at will but the standard that day was excellent. On day three, however, it was a very different story. The ‘keeper on the trip, Cameron Herring, went for one and got the very faintest of touches, deflecting the ball almost bang, slap in the middle of Rob Keogh’s face, just above nose and between the eyes. But the phys was quickly at the scene, tidied the cut up and a couple of hours later, after a short but interesting session at the local hospital, Rob was back sporting what the Head Coach later described on Twitter as a ‘manscar’. Man down? Not a bit of it. He was first into the nets the next day, the only evidence being an Adam Ant-style plaster smack in the middle of his forehead, and when the slip catching session started, he was straight back into his position at first slip. They obviously breed them tough in Northampton. Though he did snap his bat during his net session, so perhaps not so lucky…
The programme has been nicely mixed up so far. They boys enjoyed (enjoyed??) a bike ride before breakfast on day two, making the 5km journey down to the beach and back. The individual time trials in the middle proved popular, though some of the bikes were so built that sharp pedalling was required. Greg Holmes’s legs were described as going round quicker than a hamster on a wheel.
A couple of the lads have enjoyed some golf – Greg Holmes, Tom Curran and Alex – and there was a fiercely contested game between the management, Messrs Harvey and Nixon triumphing 4&3 over the former Glammy contingent of Maynard and Dalrymple. More of the group plan to play before the week is out.
Rooming arrangements are never easy to get spot on on trips such as these. The temptation is to split people up but Matt’s view was that this was rather forcing new relationships, so where there are existing connections – Edwards and Curran (Surrey); Penryhn-Jones, Holmes and Herring (Glamorgan and Gloucestershire); Thomason and Webb (Warwickshire) – these lads were put together. At first there was concern for Mattie McKiernan, a Leigh lad being put in with the three Welsh boys, but that group are as thick as thieves as this is written. Mattie’s as good as a Welsh speaker already!
One of the objectives of the camp has been to provide some off field support and to offer some tools to help the players with their game plans and preparation. Clearly major technical changes are not on the agenda – that’s for each individual and their coaches back in the UK – but we have tried to offer help of the kind which makes them think, helps them cherry-pick what might be useful, but to disregard what they feel they don’t need. All have had one-to-ones to discuss game plans, to find out what aspects of the week will be of most value to them to take into the coming season.
With this aim in mind, Gordon Lord, Head of Elite Coaching at the ECB, spent the first couple of days holding individual sessions with all eleven players to look at some personality profiling and help them to understand themselves, and perhaps use a couple of little tricks to focus on their strengths and help diminish any potential weaknesses. Some of the findings were spookily accurate! Lordy is an educational sponge, understanding all manner of theories about personal and team development, and he was a real asset to the group over the first few days. He also impressed fellow management members with the frequency of his evening shuttles from armchair to bar and back again…
Jamie Dalrymple has come over for a few days, adding valuable coaching support and also delivering a session to the lads on leadership, team roles and some of the psychological elements of the game. But first he had to run the (rather predictable) gauntlet from some of his former Glamorgan work colleagues on the management group about the absence of his butler, the disappointing lack of silver service at meal times and the inexplicable absence of Chateau Neuf du Pap ’62 in the cellar of his villa. And the slightly more serious fact that of all of the group, it just had to be his luggage which had gone A.W.O.L.. It was a major blow to Jamie. The Beluga caviar was in it.
Given JD’s propensity for using lengthy words of seven or more syllables, there was a suggestion amongst the management group that if, during his leadership talk, he threw out a word which needed further clarification, a figurative bell would be sounded. JD did really well for around ten minutes, managing words the rest of us could understand without recourse to a standard Oxford English dictionary, but when the word ‘antonyms’¹ popped up, Nico rightly rang the bell. To JD’s credit, and as a true man of the people, the bell stayed silent until much, much later in the evening after dinner, when the word ‘hubris’² was dropped casually into the conversation. Like you do…
Mike delivered a session on the work of the Tom Maynard Trust, important background for this the first Academy intake. He spoke about some of the educational projects the Trust was now involved in, including sponsorship of the PCA’s Rookie Camp, and there was a really good discussion about some of the pitfalls of life as a young professional sportsman; everything from anti-corruption to insurance and injury, from contracts and agents to alcohol and through to career planning.
The mix between the group has been interesting to watch. From Andy Carter’s journey into cricket by way of a plumbing apprenticeship, work as a foreman and the current family pheasant-breeding and shooting business, through to Aaron Thomason’s love of ‘The Villa’ and surprisingly taking Mike down on football knowledge (having zeroed in on a weakness over West Brom goalkeepers), it’s been fascinating to learn all about the eleven players on this first programme. At random, there’s Jon Webb’s graphic design course and current University assignment on Zen Buddhism and stress; Greg Holmes’s diving catches for the cameras at cover point and old-school ‘80s hits knowledge; Fynn Prentice-Hudson’s retro stonewash jeans; Cameron Herring’s breakfast singalongs… And for every off-field story, there is an equivalent unassuming focus on learning across the whole group, from the quiet but determined Lancastrian Mattie McKiernan and Wrexham’s Dewi Penrhyn-Jones to the Surrey ‘twins’, George Edwards and Tom Curran. They are a pleasure to be around.
Away from the players, we’ve also had the pleasure of the Waldorf and Stadler of coaching: Paul Nixon and Ian Harvey. Nico’s stories are legendary, though we nop already know the words to most of them and we’re only five days in! He’s somehow managed to pause for breath three times a day to feed, but his energy is unbelievably infectious and the boys have enjoyed his enthusiasm as much as his knowledge. You can’t not learn from him. Harv has been just as effective. Naturally encouraging and supportive, his Aussie tell-it-how-it-is approach has gone down really well across the group. He too has been a joy to be around. These two have a very similar coaching approach to Matt’s and they have been absolutely the perfect choices for this type of programme and for this stage of the players’ development as professional cricketers. And the banter between the two of them is entertaining with a capital E. Great characters, really good men, and an ethos which is absolutely in keeping with Matt’s own cricketing philosophy.
We are at the middle stage of the camp now. Lordy and Alex are, sadly, back in the UK, and Nico and JD return on Wednesday. Tonight sees the arrival of Dean Conway as Physio, with Richard Green, MD of Abbey Glass, who generously provided all of the kit for the group, also flying in. Rich’s support, along with the generosity of the Dr Mortimer and Teresa Sackler Foundation, have been key in helping Matt, Mike and the Trust to get the Academy up and running. We hope that this is the first of many groups of young cricketers given a grounding to help them build the right foundations for a career in the game.
The lads are building up to a game against a Spanish XI at La Manga on Friday before returning to the UK at the weekend. So far the work ethic has been fantastic, the skill levels are high, and the interaction between the different characters is growing.
The Tom Maynard Academy has got off to a flying start…
Part Two will follow.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Andy Carter (Nottinghamshire); Tom Curran (Surrey); George Edwards (Surrey); Cameron Herring (Gloucestershire); Greg Holmes (Glamorgan); Fynn Hudson-Prentice (Sussex); Rob Keogh (Northamptonshire); Mattie McKiernan (Lancashire); Dewi Penryhn-Jones (Glamorgan); Aaron Thomason (Warwickshire); Jon Webb (Warwickshire)
Dean Conway (Physio – Phase 2); Jamie Dalrymple (Coach/Speaker); Mike Fatkin (Trustee/Speaker); Richard Green (Kit Sponsor); Ian Harvey (Coach); Andy House (Sport Europe, Local Contact); Gordon Lord (ECB); Matthew Maynard (Coach); Paul Nixon (Coach); Alex Tysoe (Physio – Phase 1)