YOUNG GUN: Swan Hill’s Jack Cook takes part in a three-day cricket camp in Mildura this week for some of the up-and-coming talents in Northern Victoria. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By MITCH RODD

FURTHER development of pathways for young cricketers from the Mallee Murray region is hoped to produce more Victorian representatives.

The appointment of former Ireland Under 19 Cricket Academy coach Craig Hogan to the role of coaching and talent development specialist for the Greater Northern Country Academy is the first big win.

The Academy encompasses an area from Mildura to Corryong and includes the Mallee Murray, North East and Northern Rivers cricket regions.

Hogan was in Mildura this week running a three-day camp for junior cricketers who have been identified by State selectors as being close to the mark for Victorian selection. The juniors worked on technical skills, strength and conditioning, life management skills like diet, and developing mental skills.

While the Academy is only in its infancy, Hogan said the support from regional areas has been strong.

“Certainly country kids have got some disadvantages, but there are plenty of great advantages as well,” he said.

“Mildura would be the only place in July where we can get a turf wicket prepared. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the State.

“We’re producing some really good cricketers. A lot of juniors play tough cricket against adults earlier in their career, and a lot of the girls will have played against the boys as well.

“Basically, we’re trying to replicate here what is on offer to those kids in the city so they’re not overawed if they reach State level. A lot of the feedback we have received has indicated these can sometimes not feel ready for that situation.

“Down there fast bowling is at a high pace, and they are big spinners of the ball. Sometimes with country pitches being the way they are, we think we spin the ball a lot, but it’s not as much as what we might think. Spin is a big thing. If a country spinner heads down to Melbourne they will need to be able to spin it well, and on the flip-side, batters need to be able to play spin bowling.

“Naturally we’re good fielders in the bush, but technically there are areas we can improve.

“These kids are basically getting that bit more help to prepare them for potentially taking that next step.

“It’s a big ask for some of these guys to come here, but as I explain to the guys at Cricket Victoria, travelling three hours or more for a game of cricket is a regular occurrence.”

Hogan will not just be working with players in Sunraysia, but also with coaches and Mallee Murray cricket staff.

“What we’re trying to implement will be replicated across the State so everyone is the same,” he said. “The great thing about these camps is we’re not asking the kids to pack up and head to Melbourne, we can bring it to them.

“We’re really aiming to raise the profile of cricket in the Mallee Murray region as well. I’ll be working with (Mallee Murray regional cricket manager) Tom (Huf), and Tash Anstey, who is the new participation officer for Mallee Murray, and coaches locally as well. Tim Smith is on board as the Network Specialist Coach for Mallee Murray.”

Changes have been implemented for the representative pathways for junior players in Victoria. Age groups will compete at Junior Country Week, which for locals would then lead to Mallee Murray selection. They will then compete in what is known as the Junior Premier League, where each team will play seven games across a competition.

If a player is selected to take the next step, they will be called into the new Youth Super League, which has been aligned with Big Bash League sides Melbourne Renegades and Melbourne Stars. As a member of the Renegades zone, Mallee Murray players would be selected for the Renegades Country outfit.

Selection could then take players to Victoria Country level before the possibility of representing Victoria and Australia.

Mallee Murray combined days will be held in early October in both Mildura and Swan Hill for prospective rep players identified by coaches. Much like other sports combines, the days will put each player to the test physically and game simulations for selectors.