By CONRAD SUTCLIFFE
TOUR manager Matt Cooke has no doubts Devon’s promising young cricketers will benefit from a two-week development trip to South Africa – and if anyone knows he does.
Cooke was a 15-year-old Devon tourist in the early days of the trip back in 2003 when he was a talented youngster making his way in the game with Sidmouth.
The hard-hitting left-hander went on to win everything there is to win in Devon cricket with his club side and regularly featured in the Premier Division’s top-20 run getters at the end of the season.
Cooke got into coaching early, which led to a career stint with the Devon Cricket Board in player and club development capacities, and has been back to South Africa four times as coach or manager. He is joint manager with the DCB’s Matt Theedom on this trip.
So when Cooke says the trip is a development opportunity not to be missed for the 14 and 15 year olds in the tour party, he knows what he is talking about.
“Players should not make the mistake of thinking this is the pinnacle of their careers as that is the last thing it is,” said Cooke, who will be joined by Somerset’s Ben Green in the coaching and management team when the party leaves for South Africa in February next year.
“The tour is a stepping stone ahead of challenges that lie ahead at under-16s and above, where the cricket gets tougher.
“It is no coincidence to me that Devon sides are mostly in the top divisions of ECB county competitions, where most of the opposition comes from First Class counties.
“Devon is one of the few National Counties that competes at the top-tier level and I think the South African experience has a lot to do with it.”
It’s no coincidence either how many South African tourists have gone on to carve out careers in the game with professional counties, among them Green who toured in 2013 and went on to captain England at under-19 level after joining Somerset.
Other Devon tourists include future England players Craig Overton, Dom Bess and one-day specialist Lewis Gregory. Additionally, Ryan Stevenson (Hampshire), Ollie Sale, Jamie Overton, Adam Dibble, James Burke and Tom Lammonby (all Somerset) have gone into the professional ranks.
Devon were pioneers of the Development Tour programme back in 2002 when under-15s’ coach Alan Swift led the first two-week trip to South Africa.
Many others have followed in Devon’s footsteps since, but few have tackled the same fixture list, which throws up challenge after challenge.
“Some of the other counties who go stick mainly to playing school and college sides, but we stretch our boys more than that, said Cooke.
“The connections we have built up over the years mean we are able to play a wider mixture of sides, such as provincial youth teams and academies in different formats, such as day-night, T20 and two-day.
“Sides we have played against have included future South African Test players Vernon Phillander, J P Duminy and Zubyar Hamza, which gives you and idea of the standard.
“The entire experience will be an amazing one for all of the boys on the tour.”
The tour traditionally takes place in mid-February, however Covid-19 concerns mean it may be postponed in 2021.
Cooke said a final decision will be made on December 18 based on the latest advice from governments at home and abroad.
“If we can’t go in February then we are looking to rearrange for October 2021, which is when the domestic season in South Africa gets under way,” said Cooke.
The full tour party is: Harry Southgate (Sampford Peverell & Tiverton), Fin Hill (Exeter), George Tapley (Ipplepen), Harry Mount (Chagford), Harry Williams (Exeter), Surya Suresh (Plympton), Otty Yip (South Devon), Ben Kay (Bovey Tracey), Jon Triner (Ottery SM), Morgan Couch (Shaldon), Jed Finley (Kentisbeare), Rohan Cross (North Devon), Julian Hayter (Bideford), Will Popham (North Devon).