Although loved by thousands across the country, cricket’s home is Yorkshire, where it is played and supported religiously by many. Like flat-caps and best bitter, the 16th-century art of hitting a ball with a plank of wood is a unifying symbol of the region, and, as consequence, we have produced many of the game’s greatest players.
Dubbed the unofficial home of cricket, Yorkshire County Cricket Club has been the breeding ground of these rising stars – Geoffrey Boycott OBE, Ryan Sidebottom and current England captain Joe Root are just a few of those who made their names at the historic club. Alongside Sussex and Lancashire, Yorkshire is one of the country’s major first-class cricket clubs, producing quality cricketers at will.
However, there appears to be a new driving force behind the region’s hurtling hoard of cricketing talent. Set amongst the Howgill Fells, Sedbergh School has long been renowned for its sporting excellence, and despite being acclaimed for its pedigree in rugby, the past decade has seen the school turn its attention to cricket.
From 18-year-old Keighly-born George Hill, to Yorkshire’s 20-year-old batsman Harry Brook – two of the country’s most promising young talents – the remote school has nurtured some of the country’s most gifted players, effectively sewing the seeds of England’s cricketing future.
The school has also established itself as an esteemed cricketing venue, having hosted a number of three-day MCCA Cumberland and Red Rose Academy fixtures, as well as the four-day County Championship game between Lancashire and Durham last month.
But, just like any team needs a captain, this production line needs a navigator. Step in Martin Speight, ex-Durham and Sussex professional and Sedbergh’s Director of Cricket. After a 17-year career in the game as a top batsman, Martin joined Sedbergh School as a cricket coach back in 2010, before becoming their Director of Cricket last year.
In his nine years at Sedbergh, Martin has created a robust cricketing programme that seeks to get more pupils involved in the sport whilst honing the talents of those destined for success. When asked to reveal the secret behind Sedbergh’s impressive track record of producing cricketing stars, Martin’s response is clear-cut: ‘Culture, in a word.’
‘You can have the best facilities and coaches in the world, but if you don’t have the right culture, it won’t make a difference. We teach our students to be resilient, work hard and just get on with it. If you buy into that ethos, you’re likely to do well.’
This approach has paid dividends for the school, with their students adopting a proactive lifestyle to facilitate their development. Everyday, Martin welcomes his cricketers at 6.15am in the indoor hall, armed with a bag of corkers and a coffee.
‘I start my cricket sessions before class starts at 6.30am. This helps to form an ethos that is based on hard-work and an appetite to improve, both of which are key if you’re to make it in cricket.’
As well as the physical side to the game, having good morals and etiquette is vital at Sedbergh – the school is known for its age-old rituals and traditional teaching approaches, such as bowing and saying prayers.
For Martin, this develops students into well rounded individuals and equips his elite players to deal with the daunting and potentially unforgiving world of professional cricket.
‘You can’t prepare them perfectly, but you can teach them to be confident young people,’ he says. ‘Boarding school lends itself to a social lifestyle where pupils mix with adults – even when they eat in the dining room, there’s always a teacher at the head of each table.
Having to make conversation with an adult gives them the confidence to go into the real world and be themselves.’
This transformation from pupil to professional is something Martin’s ex-protégés Harry and George have taken in their stride. Having made his first-class debut for Yorkshire in 2016 whilst still at school, Harry went on to play full-time county cricket and has since captained England at the Under-19 World Cup, earning his reputation as cricket’s next-big-thing. Following in his footsteps, all-rounder George penned a long-term contract with Yorkshire CCC last month, as he too prepares to make the leap from schoolboy wickets to senior county cricket.
Be it the school’s long-established sporting culture or Martin’s commitment to the cause, the secrets to producing future cricket stars appear as clear as can be. Ambition, coupled with a voracious appetite to improve is the recipe for success, and Sedbergh has all the ingredients to produce future cricket stars for years to come.
Station Road, Sedbergh LA10 5HG