Auckland Cricket has made a clean-sweep of age-group tournaments for the 2018/19 season, winning five from five.
When the Under-17 Boys won their national tournament in Lincoln on 24 January, they capped off wins by the Under-21 Women and Under-19 Men in NZC tournaments, plus Under-18 and Under-15 Girls in national representative tournaments.
The Under-21s made headlines in December when they had Wellington all out for 17 runs. They went through the tournament unbeaten. In the same week, the Under-19s won their tournament in Lincoln by five points.
The Under-15s were next up, winning the national tournament in Whangarei, also unbeaten. The team also managed the remarkable feat of taking 10 wickets in every match.
The week after, Auckland Under-18 Girls were unbeaten in Wellington – making three girls’ tournaments won without losing a match.
Under-21s coach Chris Reid said that the development Auckland Cricket has placed into girls’ cricket will pay dividends over time.
“The players showed a level of professionalism which I think was the envy of all the other major associations. They maintained a desire to improve and win throughout the tournament.”
Under-19s assistant coach Mike Tillett also praised the culture that Auckland Cricket has created in its young players.
“There’s an upside to the Developing Future Aces programme mentally as well as in terms of skill. The players have learned to win, not just individually, but as a group.
“Once they take that away to a tournament week, the players know they can rely on one another, and have an understanding of their teammates strengths and weaknesses.”
The Developing Future Aces and Developing Future Hearts programmes run for two seasons, working with players who had been identified as having potential.
Pathways and Performance Manager Nick White says that the work in the winter that people don’t see is what makes a real difference.
“It’s the six am starts, gym sessions and learning about the tactics of the game.”
“The DFA/H is about giving players a taste of what it’s like to be a professional cricketer, meaning the step between school or club cricket and a national tournament isn’t so huge.”
White also pushed praise back onto the coaching staff.
“For each tournament campaign we set up a plan so we can keep a focus that’s clear and consistent, then the coaches put their own personality into it. We had five quite different coaching approaches, but they’ve all worked.
“These tournaments develop coaches as well as players.”
The basic plan creates an environment where players are recognised for the work they do that doesn’t feature on a scorecard, which allows for mistakes, and where a player can express themselves.
White also doesn’t believe that only losses build character.
“We want to see players developing, and there is plenty that you can learn from winning,” he says.
“Cricketers have a tendency to over-analyse the negatives. It’s equally important for a young player to find out what a good performance feels like for them.”
A feature of the tournaments was Auckland’s bowling. At every tournament an Auckland player was top or first-equal wicket-taker, with the Under-19 and Under-17 spinners doing particularly well.
Mike Tillett says that having more bowlers in the top 10 performers is a positive point of difference.
“You might see other teams that are centred around one batsman, and if he has an off day then they struggle.
“Especially since spinners tend to mature later, having two spinners top in the boys’ tournaments is good for us.”
Chris Reid says it’s hard to prepare a squad for a tournament if they haven’t played in one before, so the experience of his side was a real plus.
“It’s not a typical situation, you’re playing six or seven games in a week, and even those who’ve been there before can struggle.
“That’s where it’s about making sure players don’t skimp on recovery, and you try to focus on the girls staying fit and maintaining discipline.”
Auckland Cricket CEO Iain Laxon says the achievement is unparalleled and shows what the Association has in terms of future prospects.
“It’s a testament to the work we are doing in talent identification and building our development structures in the high-performance environment.
“Whilst winning isn’t everything, to win them all in one season is unparalleled, and it’s an indication that what we’ve been doing works and is starting to bear fruit.”
Saachi Shari – top run-scorer – 340 runs
Josie Penfold and Jesse Prasad – first equal wicket-takers – 10 wickets
Carl de Beer – top wicket-taker – 17 wickets
Lucas Dasent – fifth equal wicket-taker – 11 wickets
Won six from eight matches
Adithya Ashok – top wicket-taker – 17 wickets
Nathan Robinson – seventh-highest run-scorer – 239 runs
Won five from six matches
Amie Hucker – top wicket-taker – nine wickets
Skye Bowden – second highest run-scorer – 153 runs
Anna Browning – top wicket-taker – 14 wickets
Breearne Illing – best figures 5 wickets for 6 runs, including a hattrick
Emma Irwin – fourth highest run-scorer – 198 runs
Image Credit: Anna Peterson