What a Club....OCC in the Times - 26-5-21
Great to see OCC in todays Times -
Paul Edwards speaks to affiliates of an understated club that makes the careers of young cricketers a priority, even when it risks the outcome of their matches
When Lancashire played Northamptonshire last month, much was made of Simon Kerrigan’s high-class spin bowling. And rightly, too. This season has offered no finer example of courage and resilience than the former England slow left-armer’s return to the first-class game at Wantage Road. Rather less attention, though, was paid to the fact that both Kerrigan and his opposing left-arm spinner, Tom Hartley, played club cricket for Ormskirk.
But Kerrigan and Hartley are only two of the eight active professionals who either learnt their cricket at Brook Lane or moved there to develop their careers in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition, a league that Chris Benbow, the head of Old Trafford’s talent pathway, regards as the best in the county. Unsurprisingly, four of the eight — Hartley, Josh Bohannon, Liam Hurt and George Lavelle — play for Lancashire but Michael Jones (Durham) and Gavin Griffiths (Leicestershire) also played the vast majority of their recreational cricket at Ormskirk while John Simpson (Middlesex) moved there from Haslingden in 2007 before getting a contract at Lord’s. We could add to the list Chris Schofield, who played there between his spells at Lancashire and Surrey, but this is already a heritage that surely no other club in England can match.
It should probably be made clear that none of the eight cricketers presently on county staffs moved to Ormskirk simply for the money. The club does pay a few of its players but it is generally accepted that they could earn a lot more elsewhere. And in any case, Hartley, Lavelle, Jones and Griffiths spent their entire junior careers at Ormskirk; their loyalty to the place runs deep.
Geography helps to explain things a little, perhaps. Ormskirk is a small West Lancashire town that lies no great distance from any of the North West’s great metropolises, but there is no formal relationship with Old Trafford. Lancashire coaches do not push their best age-group cricketers to Brook Lane, even if they note that a disproportionate number of their professionals have played there. And facilities are also significant. The club is an important social centre and its wickets are true and hard, precisely the type of surface upon which young players should learn their trade. Anyone arriving at Ormskirk during the season is likely to find volunteers working on the square or outfield.
However, for an explanation of Ormskirk’s success in developing young cricketers it is necessary to consider the priority the club attaches to giving players opportunities early in their careers. “We have high standards and I do think it can be a ruthless dressing room at times but the main thing for me is that lads don’t just get picked, they get exposure,” John Armstrong, who was first-team captain for two years, said.
“George Lavelle didn’t come in and bat seven or eight, as he might at some clubs. Instead the skipper goes down the order and he [Lavelle] bats at three or four. When Tom Hartley was bowling in the second team at the age of 14 he was getting the last over of a game that could have gone either way. We were making the careers of young cricketers a priority, even when doing so risked the outcome of matches. Gavin Griffiths is the youngest cricketer ever to play for Ormskirk’s first team and he was coming on first change at the age of 13.”
This determination to give fine young players opportunities in the belief that such an approach, albeit carefully monitored by shrewd skippers, can only help their cricket has not stopped Ormskirk winning trophies. The club has been Liverpool Competition champions five times in the 21st century and regularly appears in the final stages of national competitions.
Left-arm spinner Kerrigan first played for Ormskirk in 2008 before playing in the Ashes in 2013
Ormskirk’s approach also prepares cricketers for the clutch points in their future careers. When Lancashire finally won the T20 Blast in 2015, Griffiths was entrusted with bowling the vital final over. When they won the County Championship in 2011, Kerrigan’s bowling under pressure was crucial to their vital win against Hampshire at Aigburth. But a week later, and two days after the title was secured at Taunton, the spinner was on the water hog at Ormskirk, trying to get a league match under way. Hartley made his first-class debut last August and barely two months later he was bowling at T20 Finals Day. He now has a contract to play for Manchester Originals in the Hundred.
“We’ve been quite good at recognising who is going to be a top player,” Ian Robinson, who skippered the first team for five of its most successful seasons, said. “There are times when that’s not difficult at all but we’ve still been adept at identifying talent. Liam Hurt was playing second-team club cricket when we signed him. And it’s also true that county players recommend clubs to their colleagues.”
None of this has been accidental and all of it has required careful planning and investment. Talk to loyalists like Armstrong and Robinson and you will hear them honour the work of captains such as Mike Taylor and David Snellgrove, who decided very late last century that Ormskirk would change the way they did things.
Brook Lane is also very much a family club: the Armstrongs, the Rankins and particularly, perhaps, the Glayzers hold the place in trust for future generations and new members. Strong links have been established with cricket-playing schools in the area. Tim Dickinson, who stepped down recently, was the shrewdest of chairmen, a manager who enabled others to manage their own spheres of responsibility.
Bohannon, celebrating a wicket for Lancashire, averages more than 40 with the bat in first-class cricket
“It’s a ripple effect from what captains like Mike and David did for us,” Armstrong said. “We set the bar higher and told players we were not interested in them if they didn’t want to play league cricket on Saturdays and knockout games on Sundays. We’re not going to throw cash around and we’re not interested in piss-up cricketers. There is a lineage at our club that has stemmed from what we did in the 1990s and the ethos we established then.”
But if there is one image that encapsulates what Ormskirk is about, it can be found a few miles away in the old Lancashire village of Lydiate, where Tom Hartley’s father, the former international 400m hurdler, Bill Hartley, runs a plant nursery. When Hartley realised that his son was serious about his cricket, he built a covered net where Tom and other Ormskirk juniors could practise whenever they wished. A few years ago, guided by the careful coaching of Jack Snowden, three future first-class cricketers, Hartley, Lavelle and Jones, polished the skills that would enrich their club and should, in time, benefit their counties, too. They learnt a professionalism that has nothing to do with money.
“Players are not at Ormskirk to mess about with their Saturdays,” Tom Hartley said. “The coaches are very good at identifying the players who can make the move up and that applies even to third-team cricket. They can see who’s got the attitude for it. They also give you overs and understand that you’re not going to get any better simply watching other bowlers. Getting the chance to bowl 20 overs was vital for me, as was the presence of captains who trusted me to win the game.”
The Ormskirk eight
Tom Hartley (Age: 23, County: Lancashire)
Josh Bohannon (24, Lancashire)
Liam Hurt (27, Lancashire)
George Lavelle (21, Lancashire)
Simon Kerrigan (32, Northants)
Michael Jones (23, Durham)
Gavin Griffiths (27, Leicestershire)
John Simpson (32, Middlesex)