County cricketers are rumbling off Oxfordshire’s production line with almost as much frequency as Minis do at the BMW car plant in Cowley.
Gloucestershire have no fewer than six former Oxfordshire players – Ben Charlesworth, Miles Hammond and the pair of brothers Ollie and Tom Price and Jack and Matt Taylor – on their staff and now Sussex are starting to benefit from their formal partnership with the National County.
Last month all-rounder James Coles became the first product of the Oxfordshire and Sussex Academy – a partnership that was established in 2013 - to sign a professional contract with the first-class county.
Having made a century on his debut for Oxfordshire in a friendly against Buckinghamshire last summer, Coles then made his senior debut for Sussex against Surrey at the Oval last September at the age of 16 years and 157 days.
Earlier this month Coles marked his competitive debut for Oxfordshire by taking five for six with his left-arm spin to set up a victory over National Counties Trophy holders Berkshire which were the county’s second-best figures in the competition and their most economical analysis.
Coles, who only turned 17 in early April, is a product of the Aston Rowant club and Magdalen College School where the Oxfordshire and Sussex Academy is based.
Harrison Ward, a former St Edward’s School student, has also progressed from the Academy onto the Sussex Academy and the England Under-19s all-rounder is currently playing Second XI cricket for Sussex alongside Coles and former Oxfordshire batsman Delray Rawlins.
The development of young talent is a source of great pride to Oxfordshire Head Coach Rupert Evans, who made more than 150 appearances for the county between 1983 and 1998, and testament to the excellent working relationship the county has with Sussex.
“Our formal relationship has worked absolutely fantastically well because not only do Oxfordshire get opportunities with Sussex we get fantastic support with our coaching,” Evans said.
“We work in partnership to run similar programmes to the ones that Sussex do.
“The Emerging Players Programme is an Oxfordshire-Sussex one and Alan Duncan, who is a Level Four coach, is funded by Sussex to head up our EPP programme alongside Matt Barnes our Performance Manager.
“Our own coaches also work on that programme but we also have support from Richard Halsall, Sussex’s Academy Director, who regularly attends our sessions, and they also send specialist coaches like James Kirtley to our sessions.
“Anything that is going to help the programme to run better and help our players develop, then Sussex are heavily involved in it.
“We work closely to ensure that there is a seamless pathway all the way up and it’s good when you see guys go on because it means that we are doing our job properly.
“If they go on to play first-class cricket or for England Under-19s it’s good for Oxfordshire cricket and we are pleased to see them go on to bigger and better things.”
Evans also coaches in Oxfordshire’s EPP programme and has helped Coles develop the skills that have taken him onto Sussex’s staff.
“Last year James started off with a hundred against Bucks and then went on and made his debut for Sussex as a 16-year-old,” he said.
“Against Berkshire a couple of weeks ago he took five for six in seven overs. He looked very calm. He’s a very level-headed lad and he seems to take everything in his stride.
“It will be interesting to see how, if he does have a bit of a difficult time, he reacts but I’m pretty confident that he will cope with it.”