How The Hampshire Hawks City Academy Is Changing Cricket In The City

The Hampshire Hawks City Academy is changing the game for young cricketers in inner-city Southampton by providing access to high quality coaching and facilities

Alex Smith, ECB Reporters Network.

Southampton and cricket have never quite seen eye-to-eye.

Of Hampshire’s five Southampton-born players to have made their debut in the 21st century: two were sons of county legends, one came through at Sussex, one made just four first-class appearances, and the other is more well-known locally for playing non-league football.

The fact there is only one set of outdoor nets – at the private school King Edward VI – in the city and that there isn't a major club team between Totton and Burridge, and you can start to build a picture of the historical cricketing neglect in Southampton.

But things are changing thanks to the launch of the Hampshire Hawks City Academy earlier this year, with the primary aim to provide new opportunities for youngsters in Southampton. With the added benefit of opening up a brand-new pathway onto the Hampshire Academy.

So firstly, how do you unearth the next James Vince, Liam Dawson or Mason Crane, especially when you are introducing cricket to kids who may never have picked up a bat, let alone have heard of the sport.

James Hibberd, Regional Performance Manager at Hampshire who oversees the project, explained: “We’ve started to design talent ID days at 11 targeted schools in the centre of Southampton. We are trying to gauge what talent is and get them to have fun. We try to get away from cricket as such and see how they move and see how they hit the ball.

“There is a massive breakdown of the skills. We aren’t worrying or teaching them what a straight drive is or what it looks like. We are actually showing them how to stand there, get balanced and strike a ball. And then how consistent that is.

“Then, are they coachable? So, when you teach them some bits do they listen and put that into practice.

“At first, we try to identify 50 players then we start to play a few more games and start to develop the cricket side of things and get them to an end-stage where in September when the academy guys will be resting up these guys will be upskilled in terms of using kit, using a bowling machine, show them that this is what bowling looks like and try and get cricket knowledge drilled into them quite quickly.”

Hibberd, a former professional at Hampshire, has plenty of anecdotes of uncovering talent already, including a youngster who had taught himself to bowl like Rashid Khan without any formal training, or an “outstanding” under-nine tennis player who wowed coaches in his first session after being handed a bat for the first time.

There are countless other examples of individuals with a flair for cricket who wouldn’t have found their way onto Hampshire’s radar.

Facilities are improving too, with Cantell School - a state school that has been leading the push and been a hub for the Hawks - upgrading their indoor nets. Hibberd is also adamant about playing games in the centre of Southampton rather than on traditional club grounds.

Then there is the barrier-breaking of the initiative.

A very rough estimate would suggest that 400 of the 700 players on Hampshire’s Academy pathway are from a private school background - with one region comprising of 70 per cent from a fee-paying school. This widens the chances of public school students having a shot at making a living out of cricket.

“We try and highlight our talented state school guys and then give them further opportunities,” Hibberd, who attended one of the state schools being targeted, said.

“Those state school guys are getting extra training sessions and they have extra matches on top of what they get at county level.

“We need to have an awareness as coaches that we need to keep an eye on things to make sure it is a fair playing field and everyone has what they need,” Hibberd noted, before enthusiastically vowing to better tap into Southampton’s 25,000 Muslim population.

There are already promising signs with the Southampton Hawks Academy side winning their first two competitive matches. There is also a match penned in for September 15 against the ACE Programme that will take place on the main The Ageas Bowl pitch.

Chairman Rod Bransgrove and chief executive David Mann are huge supporters of the programme and have thrown their weight behind it.

In a week Issy Wong and Lauren Bell became the first full Chane To Shine participants to go on and play for England, the high-end value of such programmes is in the spotlight.

The overarching ambition is, however, to grow the number of children playing the game – to benefit all levels of cricket – with Hibberd pointing out how small the prospect is that any current 13-year-old will make it onto a professional contract.

He said: “The chances of one per cent of the 700 players on any of the pathways going on to become a professional cricket is quite tough, let alone the eight Hawks we had train over the winter and the 12 who are currently on it.

“Nothing might come of this current crop but with our talent ID, we need to make sure we are on it to get the best players we can.

“But it would be amazing, wouldn’t it, to see one of the guys walk out here as a professional cricketer and have a professional life out of something they wouldn’t even have thought they could have.”

Regardless, Hampshire are now in a better place to pinpoint talent on their Ageas Bowl doorstep, with similar schemes in Portsmouth and Basingstoke to come.

But most importantly, hundreds, if not thousands, more children are being exposed to cricket.

Southampton Hawks Academy's next fixture is against Calmore Sports U13-A at Southampton Sports Centre on Wednesday 29th June.

For more information about the Hampshire Hawks City Academy and how it was formed, visit the link below.

Hawks Inner City Programme
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