January 2017 - Making the grade - Tom Alsop and Jake Goodwin

There are some days in your life when something happens that makes you sit up a bit straighter. As a player, volunteer and long time supporter of Wiltshire Cricket the achievements of the county at various levels has always generated that tiny flash of pride. Some, obviously, provoke a greater reaction than others.  2016 had a number of achievements at first class level, and above, that met that criteria.

In decades gone by, Wiltshire Cricket was considered a very poor relation in terms of minor county cricket. It's fair to say that sometimes winning just one game per year in age group cricket was considered a fairly successful season. I can say that with the experience of being part of those age groups.

Things have changed. Wiltshire's senior side won the Western Division of the minor county championship in 2015 and narrowly missed out on the national title. Young players have pushed towards first class contracts, and some have made it. Junior age groups play more games and compete on a more equal footing with first class counties.

But Friday 29 July 2016 was different. This day marked something special. For Hampshire Cricket. For two local lads in particular. For Wiltshire Cricket. For a number of coaches, volunteers, clubs and parents. For me. It made me sit up and smile. It made me proud to be associated with Wiltshire Cricket..

It’s the Ageas Bowl, Southampton. Hampshire have just put 181-3 on the board against Somerset in the Natwest T20 competition. It’s a great score, a winning score, but it’s also an opportunity to take stock – to reflect on the success of local boys done good. The scorecard reads; Tom Alsop (85 from 57 balls), Jake Goodwin (32 from 29), Shahid Afridi (21 from 12) and Liam Dawson (25 from 16). Three Wiltshire boys in the top 4 for Hampshire. Liam then takes 5-17 as Somerset are hustled out for 98. Wow! Hampshire Cricket's match report of the game makes for great reading from a Wiltshire perspective

In fairness the last couple of seasons have been a pleasure to follow with Craig Miles performing well at Gloucestershire and James Vince and Dawson making the grade with Hampshire and then with England. 2016 was just simply a bit special though and this particular game stood out.

Wiltshire Cricket caught up with Jake and Tom about that game, their progress so far and the experience they've gained.

Jake, you made your professional debut that night. What was it like? 

Jake Goodwin – It was everything I expected and more. The adrenaline and excitement was phenomenal and the support from the boys in the changing room, including from the big names such as Shahid Afridi gave me a massive confidence boost and calmed my nerves. I did my usual pre match routine before the game, and got told to just do everything I had been doing in the second team, as that is what made this opportunity come about. The crowd was a massive boost and my opening partner Tom (Alsop) was a huge support too, praising me every time I did something successfully.

Tom made his first class debut back in September 2014, having made his Hampshire debut in a Royal London one day cup game v Gloucestershire in July of that year. He expected it to be very scary and intense. But when he got his chance to bat he was nervous for an over or two, and ‘then it was like any other game, just a bowler bowling at you. I forgot that it was my debut and just played naturally.’ Tom made 33 in his first innings. He also speaks highly of the players around him, welcoming him as a new player making it very comfortable for him in a nervous environment.

Did you always dream of being a professional cricketer?

Tom Alsop - I always dreamt of being a professional cricketer. That is what I said from primary school days. I always believed in myself, and knew that I was quite good at batting, but I had to work very hard. Natural talent only takes you so far. I’ve always wanted to be the best in everything I do. When I got offered a place on the Hampshire academy that’s when I knew I had a great opportunity.

I have doubted myself at times, especially when scores haven't been coming. But I've always been convinced that if I work harder, I will succeed. Getting my maiden 100’s in first class and list A cricket have definitely helped with confidence etc. But at times you just have to go with it, what will happen, will happen. I got through my tough periods with family, I did have a great girlfriend at the time and she helped. I’m also a Christian so faith at times too!

JG - I always dreamed of playing professional cricket from the age of 8 as my father played quite a bit. It all started from when I used to visit my local club on a Saturday to watch the men's teams play, and hitting a tennis ball around in the nets. I was always encouraged by my parents to get involved in the game therefore they were the biggest influence.

As soon as I got on the Hampshire academy I thought to myself that I have a real good opportunity now to work with some of the best coaches around, I tried to take it all in my stride and listen and take in as much information as possible to help me become a better cricketer.

Have your routines changed as a result of playing at a higher level?

TA - My routine has changed since academy games but that’s only down to talking to better players; like Chris Rogers helped massively. Once you've got something that works for you, it’s more important that you don't change it, because it’s brought you success before and it’s what makes you, you. My morning routine would be; get in for breakfast, try to be the first one in the net for hits so I can have longer, and I just go through my routine as if I was out in the middle.

JG - Nothing changed about my pre game routine on my debut. I just had a hit, got some food and had a chat with some of the lads pre match, I couldn't stop asking questions.

What do you focus on when you’re batting?

JG - At the crease, I focus entirely on the ball and think about the things coaches have told me, nothing technical though. More to do with manipulating the field and how to get off strike quickly in a one day game, or how to survive against tough opposition.

TA - I focus on the ball and my breathing. I say a few things to myself, almost like trigger words. Those get me focused and keep my mind on the situation. I would express though for a batter whose goal is to bat all day, you have to learn to switch on and off, the best players will do this very well. It enables you to give all of your focus when facing the ball whether it’s your 1st or 200th.

What's the best advice you’ve received during your career?

TA - Best advice I've been given is to enjoy every moment, but also find something that you're interested in outside of cricket. It can consume you and gets you overthinking everything, so you need something to get away from it for a while.

So what next for you both?

TA - My next ambitions are, having an even better season for Hampshire next season, scoring 1000 runs would be great. And of course, to play for England.

JG - The next thing I am looking to do is to secure a development contract with the club, and hopefully play a few more 1st team games in the season to come, as well as being a match winner for the 2nd team.

Both boys acknowledge the huge support, advice and influence of their parents in the journey they’ve had so far. A BBC sport article written about Alsop characterizes a very grounded, composed person who articulated the support he'd received from Michhael Carberry in particular. He also attributes a huge amount of credit to his parents and older brother, Owen, for their support and influence growing up . Goodwin offers similar insight with his recognition that he’s had to rely on his parents to be able to get to where he needed to be at the right time. In his words, ‘I cannot thank them enough for this and without them there is no way I would be where I am now.’

It’s no easy journey. Alsop comments on the sacrifices he’s had to make, the things with family and friends he’s missed out on in order to get to where he wants to be. A tour of the United Arab Emirates with the England Lions in December marked his first step onto the international stage. He wouldn’t change a thing about how life has turned out.

For Goodwin, it’s all ahead of him. But with the likes of Vince, Dawson and Miles blazing the trail for Wiltshire young players in recent years he is not short of advice and experience around him to help. He, as well as cricketer’s at all levels, would be well advised to heed Alsop’s parting words; ‘enjoy yourself and never lose sight of why you started. Tough times will come, but so will the good’.

Wiltshire Cricket would like to thank Tom Alsop and Jake Goodwin for their time and insight and wish them the very best for 2017. We’d also like to take the opportunity to congratulate Liam Dawson on his Test debut in India in December, and a tremendously composed 66* to go alongside very respectable figures of 2-129 off 45 overs. Finally we continue to follow the achievements of Hampshire captain James Vince and Gloucestershire all-rounder Craig Miles, while working hard behind the scenes to identify the next young players capable of making the step up!