Richard Damms has admitted his delight at the progress made at Rookie, Academy and Pathway levels this summer, despite the obvious Coronavirus complications.
Yorkshire’s Academy head coach was definitive in his response to the question of how successful the shortened 2020 campaign had been below senior level.
“I think without any shadow of a doubt, we got the very most out of this summer,” said Damms.
The first-team debuts made by George Hill, Dom Leech, James Wharton and Sam Wisniewski, added to the further progression of Ben Birkhead, Matthew Revis and Jack Shutt at that level, were obvious success stories played out in the public eye.
However, behind the scenes, work to further the Yorkshire production line continued at pace.
“Take the lads who got their first-team opportunities out of it for a second, we got the opportunity to do what we never get to do in a summer which is practice, practice, play, practice, practice, play,” continued Damms.
“Second-team, we did lots of practice at Weetwood on red and white ball skills. Then we went and played some training matches against the likes of Lancashire and Durham.
“The opportunity the Academy lads got to be involved in those sessions as well was unbelievable.
“Come a normal summer, you are up against two weeks on the road, games at weekends, outside pressures. Even though you could do with two days of practice, it’s a trade off with rest.
“But this summer, everyone was turning up to every session or game as fresh as a daisy because it was almost a bit of a freebie. No one was expecting to be doing anything in May.
“When we got the go ahead, the attitude for every session bar none was exceptional.
“In terms of complications, we had to decide whether Academy lads were classed as elite or not.
“If they were classed elite, they could stay in ‘the bubble’ and go up to second-team or even the firsts. But they couldn’t go back to play recreational cricket at weekends. That happened with the rookies, pros and the Academy.
“When I got the final word from Wayne Morton (Yorkshire’s director of medical services), I said, ‘Brilliant’.
“He was surprised by my response, but what it meant was that we could have a look at lads underneath the Academy in some under 18 training matches, ones I’d organised before getting the final say so on who was available and who wasn’t.
“I worked with players I wouldn’t normally have done.
“If the Academy lads had played, for example, we’d have had to have had a physio and Covid trained paramedic.
“But playing lads from the pathways (recreational) who weren’t involved in the weekly training stuff, we could look after them and have a look at them.
“Hence forth, the six we signed on for our Emerging Players Programme (the level below Academy; players named below) were done on the back of the time spent with them this summer, getting to know them as characters and players.
“The performances and potential they showed, we’ve signed six and could have signed more. But we wanted to keep the group small and elite.
“Other lads who could have been signed, their chance could still come. And it’s up to them to prove us wrong. I’ve had that conversation with them.”
Birkhead, Hill, Leech, Revis, Shutt, Wharton and Wisniewski all made either their first-team debuts in 2020 or their first appearances in either four-day or T20 cricket in the cases of Birkhead, Revis and Shutt.
“Take (fast bowler) Leechy as an example. He played in that four-day game against Notts at Trent Bridge and did well,” said Damms, who heaped praise on coach Andrew Gale for his bravery in selection.
“He wouldn’t have played had Fish and Coady not got injured at Durham the week before. But, because they did, he was thrown in and given a chance.
“That was brave of Galey because there were other options he could have taken. But he went, ‘No, I’m going to pick him because he’s done well and deserves a chance’.
“That took some real guts from Galey to do that because we all know the pressure he’s under to win games and trophies.
“That was brilliant from him to do that – it was brave, strong leadership – and Leechy didn’t let him down and will benefit massively from that opportunity, as will all the other lads who were given a chance.
“Wiz is different to what most counties have got, let alone us, with his left-arm wrist spin. So getting him involved in the T20s was fantastic as well.
“We’ve all, myself, Ian Dews, Galey, Rich Pyrah, Paul Grayson and Martyn Moxon, have all said that really the only good thing to come out of this Covid stuff is the opportunity young players have had with injuries and all the internationals away.”
Yorkshire’s Academy and EPP winter training schedule is hoped to begin next Saturday. It had been due to start on November 14, only for the second nationwide lockdown forcing a short delay.
Damms added: “It’s now December 5 because we didn’t want to nail down December 2 or 3 without knowing exactly when we’d be coming out of lockdown.
“That’s the day when they’ll do the physical screening and mental skills profiling with Phil Lee, our sports psychologist.
“Monday 7 is when one-to-one sessions will begin, group sessions after that, and then we’ll be away.”
Last month, 20 young players committed their immediate future to the club.
Birkhead, Harry Duke, Hill, Leech, Tom Loten, Revis, Josh Sullivan and Wharton are all on Rookie contracts for 2021, the bridge between the Academy and professional. They will train full-time with the senior squad.
Six Academy players are Ed Booth, Will Luxton, James Mukherjee, Harry Sullivan, Yash Vagadia and Wisniewski.
The six players on the Emerging Players Programme are Harry Allinson, George Booth, Ben Cliff, Dan Ford, Romir Singh and Matthew Weston.
The Academy and EPP players will train three times a week at Emerald Headingley during the winter alongside their education.