When Charlotte Burton was a lass… well… it wasn’t quite “all fields ’round here” but it wasn’t far off!
The Sussex Development Officer started her cricketing journey as a girl in the Sussex pathway back in the 90s, and it was a very different world:
“We trained in the Gilligan Stand at the County Ground, which is now a flooring company next to the pub – it had two lanes and it had wooden flooring, so it was very difficult batting and bowling in there.”
And things didn’t get much better on match-day either:
“We played on a tiny pitch at Roedean School, where if you hit it over the boundary it was ‘6-and-out’ because of the road there!”
Twenty years later, Burton sits in an office at Sussex’s shiny, new HQ of Women’s Cricket – the Aldridge Cricket Academy – and reflects upon how much has changed:
“What the girls have now, compared to when I was playing, is unbelievable and amazing – we are looked after so well – we’ve got use of all the facilities here at the Academy: the gym, the social space, and in the summer the ground outside for training and matches. All our players, from our Under 11s right through to our senior women, train here, and it is an aspiration for our youngsters to see that the senior women train and play here too.”
Thanks to the generosity of Sir Rod Aldridge – the millionaire founder of outsourcing group Capita – girls cricket is going from strength to strength in Sussex.
“We’ve got Under 11s, 12s, 13s, 15s and 17s squads, then the Academy and the women’s [1st XI] team,” Burton explains. “The 11s to the 13s play friendly matches against other counties whilst the 15s and 17s play their Championship and a few T20s.”
But it’s not just about the elite pathway:
“The Aldridge Foundation have given us a large pot of money to go out and work in the community with girls’ cricket. We’ve got 5 hubs for girls 12 and upwards, where they get free coaching from Sussex coaches. It’s softball – they don’t need any experience or equipment – they can just come along and practice their cricket – do some skills and drills and play some fun games; and then if they are not with a club we try to link them up with one.”
A couple of girls have already come through the hubs onto the elite program, where they will hope to one day follow in the footsteps of some of the age-group players who are stepping up to the senior squad this year.
The one whose name precedes her is of course Ellie Robinson – daughter of England Head Coach Mark – but Burton tells us there is plenty of other talent to look out for:
“Ella McCaughan is an outstanding batter and leg-spin bowler, who plays like Sarah Taylor – very natural – and times the ball well.”
“We’ve got Ella Wadey from the Under 17s – she is an all-rounder – more of a batter, but she bowls a bit of seam.”
“Then we’ve got Cassie McCarthy, who is a very quick pace bowler. She was found through the Chance To Shine program when she was 11 years old, and she came into county as a wicket keeper – this is only her 3rd season as a pace bowler but she is probably one of the quickest bowlers we’ve got on the county scene.”
After Sussex’s shock relegation from Div 1 at the end of last season, they will be slumming-it in Div 2 this year, but Burton is sure they will bounce right back:
“No doubt! There is a lot of talent there, from the experienced players to the youngsters coming through. They are so determined to get back into Div 1 next year, and I’ve got every faith in them doing it – they are going to have a great season, I know they will!”