Cricket in Hastings: Young Talent to Watch
If you don’t have a satellite dish you won’t have watched any live international cricket on your home TV since 2005. If you live in Hastings the nearest venue to watch senior county cricket is Hove – Sussex have not played in Hastings or even Eastbourne since 2001. Even the cricketer statue has gone missing from Priory Meadow shopping centre, unrecovered from his injury inflicted by a fork lift truck installing the ice rink back in November. You might be forgiven for thinking that what was once England’s national game has gone the way of shillings and threepenny bits.
There is in fact plenty of new money in cricket, far more than there used to be, largely as a result of commercial television. The England and Wales Cricket Board receive in the region of £65 million per year out of Sky’s exclusive broadcasting deal. Most of it is channelled back to the first-class counties. But there’s the rub: in Sussex, a county where it takes two hours or more to drive from one end to the other, only Arundel and Horsham get a look-in as an alternative to the main ground in Hove.
Between 1865 and 1989 Hastings not only fielded regular Sussex county fixtures at the old Central Recreation Ground but often also hosted matches involving the Australians and other Test-playing teams on tour. It has only itself to blame, you might think, for turning this famous venue into a temple of Mammon. But the replacement Horntye ground off Bohemia Road has an excellent pitch and good all-round facilities. The problem is that the commercial interests on which the county finances depend – TV, business sponsors, bar and restaurant franchisees, and subscription members – all demand a central location. It is just too expensive to re-locate from Hove for a one-off event. And when it was last tried, in May 2008 for a one-day game against Essex, the match was rained off without a ball bowled.
Nevertheless, from a playing point of view, the town isn’t altogether a cricketing backwater. Michael Yardy, former Sussex captain and member of the England side which won the World Twenty20 championship in 2010, was educated at William Parker school and played for Hastings Priory. Harry Finch is another former Priory batsman who has recently graduated to full professional status with the county. And the Priory 1st XI, missing last summer from the Sussex Premier League following ignominious relegation in 2014, are back up again this year among the big boys.
Last season’s successes owed much to the youthful bowling trio of Elliot Hooper, Adam Barton and Jed O’Brien – each, as it happens, with left arm delivery and each with potential to go further in the game.
Hooper, the eldest of the three at just 23, is an all-rounder who was also highest scorer of league runs for Priory last year. He was selected for the Sussex 2nd XI in several games in 2013 and 2014. He now attends Loughborough University, but has indicated an intention to play for the Priory team in most league games this summer.
O’Brien, 20, another spinner, got little cricket from schooling at William Parker, but like the others has come up through the club ranks. He topped the club’s bowling figures with 64 dismissals in 17 games in 2015, and has started with eight more in the first two games back in the Premier league this month. He feels he has the ambition to make it professionally, and is hopeful of gaining selection for the Sussex Development squad later in the season.
Barton, medium fast, is studying at Anglia Ruskin University, which qualifies him to play first-class cricket for Cambridge. (He turned out in a season opener against the full Nottinghamshire county team last month: 0 for 126 in 24 overs, if you want to know, but against opposition which included several current or former Test batsmen). Again he is expected to be available for the majority of Priory’s league games. A four wicket haul in the opening game against Worthing showed his prowess at this level.
The talent is there. I will be returning during the season to report on how it is faring.