Alex Russell has praised the part that National Counties cricket played in helping him secure another crack at first-class level with Northamptonshire.
The 20-year-old leg-spinner is a product of Gloucestershire’s academy but he was released by them last summer without being offered a senior contract.
Russell had played for Herefordshire alongside his Gloucestershire commitments and his performances for them in the National Counties Championship and Trophy competitions last summer then for the NCCA representative XI in the European T10 Championship in Spain in the autumn helped him to secure a trial with Northamptonshire.
Having taken five for 83 in the opening Second XI Championship match of the season against Yorkshire at Bradford, Russell has now been signed by Northamptonshire on a summer contract with the opportunity to turn that into a longer deal if he continues to progress.
“I first played for Herefordshire when I was 16 so I’ve been playing for them for four years,” Russell said.
“In that first season they pretty much picked me in every game and gave me loads of opportunities. Even though I’m not from Herefordshire they have been really supportive.
“They put me forward for the NCCA team for T10 tournament in Spain and really pushed me hard for that. They have been brilliant.
“When I first played for Herefordshire, they were looking for younger players and I was looking to play National Counties cricket. My home club is Frocester, which isn’t far away so it all worked out pretty well.
"Richard Skyrme, Herefordshire’s coach, has been excellent and one of the most supportive of me during my time with the county and also Matt Pardoe, the captain.
“Those two have really helped me but so have all the players I have played with at Herefordshire, they’ve all really helped me.”
Russell is the latest players from National Counties – formerly Minor Counties – cricket to be taken on by Northamptonshire who have an outstanding record in identifying and developing talented players from the 20 counties immediately below first-class level.
Russell joins Freddie Heldreich (Suffolk), Charles Thurston, Rob Keogh, Gus Miller (all Bedfordshire), Ben Sanderson (Shropshire), Jack White (Cheshire) and Saif Zaib (Buckinghamshire) as players on the current staff at Wantage Road who have been recruited from National Counties cricket.
The recent roll of honour at Northamptonshire also includes Graeme Swann, David Willey, James Kettleborough, Alex Wakely and Monty Panesar (Bedfordshire), Jack Brooks (Oxfordshire), Richard Gleeson (Cumberland) and Olly Stone (Norfolk).
“When I was released by Gloucestershire I was frustrated. I went away played club cricket and National Counties and decided I would give it a couple of years to see how things went,” Russell said.
“I believed that I was good enough to play I just wanted to keep myself in the shop window and see if I could get an opportunity. I have been so lucky to get one so quickly.
“If young lads are released by one county it doesn’t mean that they won’t get picked up by another. There is still time to get back into the game.
“There are opportunities out there and playing National Counties cricket is a good way to put yourself in the shop window if you can perform consistently.
“The standard of National Counties cricket is very good and if you are taking wickets or scoring runs it does get noticed by coaches.
“People know how good the standard is and it’s a good platform to get you noticed.”
Although Russell has his sights set firmly on securing a longer contract with Northamptonshire he remains registered with Herefordshire and will be available for selection when his commitments with the first-class county permit.
“I will be making myself available whenever I can. These last two weeks I haven’t been able to play because I have been travelling with the first team and doing twelfth man duties,” he said.
“If I hadn’t been doing that I would have played in the whole T20 competition for Herefordshire and if I am not playing for Northamptonshire I will be available for Herefordshire.”