For Yorkshire’s senior cricketers, runs and wickets and County Championship points are the main goals at this stage of the summer. A little bit farther down the food chain at Headingley, the focus is very different.
Points being chased for the majority of the county’s 16 Academy and Emerging Players Programme starlets are those which will hopefully secure them a place at College or University, while runs and wickets are purely a welcome distraction from study books and pressures of exams.
It is a challenge mostly for the players themselves, of course, but also for the coaching staff as they try to strike a balance to ensure progress on the field as well as off it.
“Ultimately, education comes first because that sets you up for the rest of your life if you can get it right,” said Yorkshire’s Academy head coach Tom Craddock.
“So it’s about balancing those studies with cricket and making sure they’re in the middle of that conversation with their parents.
“We’ve had a quite a few conversations with the younger lads who are doing their GCSE’s about how we can best get the Academy to the player rather than expecting them to come to the Academy.
“We’ve got coaches spread all over the county, so we’ve managed to get quite a lot of one to ones done with lads.
“Even though some of them might not represent the Academy for the next couple of months – some of them are A star students – we’ve definitely come together to make sure their cricket’s topped up.
“We have to find a way to make sure that they’re ready to perform when they do play.
“We’ve had some very good conversations with players and parents, and we’re all on the same page. It’s been great.”
Craddock says the players have got the best out of limited time outdoors in the last few weeks, with a two-day training camp at Worksop College allowing them to get 150 overs on grass.
At present, they are playing Durham in a two-day friendly, the Academy’s first game of the summer.
Craddock continued: “There’s always things you can do more, but we’re very happy with where we’re at given the weather that we’ve had. The lads are in a good place.
“They’re just ready to get outside and manage their studies alongside.”
The group sees a mixture of those studying for GCSE’s, AS-Levels, A-Levels and BTECS, the latter ongoing for a couple at the Yorkshire Cricket College.
“I don’t think that’s exam based – that’s essay based,” said Craddock. “They’ll be available for quite a lot of the cricket, but for the others it’s limited.
“Our schedule for the summer evolves and tries to run alongside the seniors.
“We’ve got some red ball cricket early on to match the second XI schedule. We’ve had a couple of lads go up to get a taste of that level.
“Then, in a few weeks when the Blast kicks off, our schedule lends itself to white ball cricket. We have our Vitality T20 competition alongside a lot of friendlies. If anyone is called up, they’re in the middle of a white ball block.
“Then, when the exams finish, the first week in July is the start of the three-day red ball competition.”
You can look at the lack of availability of players one of two ways. There will be those who see it as a problem. Craddock isn’t one. He sees it as an opportunity to widen the net and look at other young players of interest from across the county.
“We’ve got about 45 players we hope to look at, but that depends on everyone’s availability,” he said. “Will we look at all 45? I don’t know.
“But there’s a wide range of players from all over the county, and that’s really exciting.”
Craddock also spoke about how the coaching staff look to take the pressure off the young players, but that is not just limited to exam time.
“That’s all year round,” he went on. “I think it’s quite a stressful stage in their lives, so our philosophy is to keep things as relaxed as possible because they will put enough pressure on themselves.
“The fact that they’re playing for the Yorkshire Academy, which is one of the very best in the world, the game adds pressure naturally. We don’t need to put any more on.
“The emphasis shifts from county age-groups, with a lot more people coming to watch, national scouts come, including Michael Yardy – the England Under 19s coach.
“So we just try to keep the focus on the present – what they can do on that given day to get a bit better.”
The fun element included a recent team-building trip to the Lake District.
It enabled Craddock and his coaching team to see the players in a different light and give him some pointers on things such as leadership.
“We won’t be appointing a captain, it will be a leadership group of players from different ages to allow players to transition in and out,” he said.
“For example, if you pick two captains and they both get picked for the seconds, you’ve not prepared anyone to step in.
“Some popped their heads up as leaders in the Lakes. That was brilliant. But you have to match that with cricket knowledge.
“That’s where early season is brilliant because you might get the chance to give some guys the chance to captain when they might not have done it before. You get to see where they’re at tactically.
“The way we prepare the boys is, ‘You don’t know what’s going to happen, but be prepared to play – be prepared for anything’.
“You’re only one injury away more often than not from making your debut in the seconds. That’s the case in any standard of cricket.
“Our job is to keep communicating with Tom Smith and Tim Boon to update them on where lads are at.
“One thing you can’t do is prepare young lads for their debut.
“You can prepare them for everything else around it and the things that come with it like maybe batting in certain positions you think may eventuate.
“But there are so many unknowns, and your debut is such a surreal experience.”
Some of Craddock’s bowlers recently bowled in the nets to players such as Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan.
“You couldn’t take the smiles off their faces,” he added. “And those are amongst the amazing opportunities that we can create at a club such as this.
“It’s just a really exciting time for us all, including the amazing staff we’ve got in place.
“They’re a young crop this year with an amazing opportunity to go and learn. I hope they make the most of it.”