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Interview by Jon Batham of the ECB Reporters Network

Middlesex's talented crop of youngsters can expect more first-team opportunities in 2021 according to Head Coach Stuart Law.

The coronavirus pandemic which cast such a shadow over the 2020 season meant plans to bring in marquee overseas talents were shelved, leaving Law to promote fresh faces from among the county’s recent academy graduates.

Slow left-armer Thilan Walallawita and England Under-19s seamer Blake Cullen showed huge promise in the Bob Willis Trophy, while spinner Luke Hollman and batsman Joe Cracknell emerged in the Vitality Blast.

“I’m not frightened of playing the young kids,” said Law. “I think they bring a great freshness to the team.

“Obviously, you’ve got to pick them on merit and they’ve got to warrant their selection, but I’m not frightened to do that.

“I’m a big believer you sign these kids on because you think they can play, and you don’t know if they can play if they are only playing second team cricket, training with the first team and just doing the run of the mill county pro things off the field. You need to see them playing cricket.

“And it’s not about getting an opportunity, it’s about grabbing hold of one and some of our young players have grabbed it with both hands.”

Walallawita, a survivor of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, became a fixture in the Bob Willis Trophy side, taking three for 28 against Hampshire at Radlett and claiming three more scalps in his only Vitality Blast outing.

All-rounder Hollman was a revelation in the T20, averaging 35 with the bat at a strike rate of 139 and taking nine wickets at 18 apiece with the ball.

And Cracknell too lit up the latter stages of the shorter format, the pick of his eye-catching efforts a 22-ball 50 against quarter-finalists Kent.

“Thilan - what a story he is,” continued Law. “What a journey he’s been on to actually get to where he is now and to have played first-class cricket is such a fantastic effort. I’m very proud of the young fella.

“Every over he bowled, every spell he bowled he learnt something new and at that age you want them to be learning every time they go out. He can only get better.

“Luke Hollman and Joe Cracknell have been tearing up league cricket for a couple of years now at North Middlesex, so they’ve thoroughly deserved their opportunity.”

Law speaks as a man often denied opportunities as a youngster back in his native Queensland by the constant influx of overseas talent. And while that made him bloody-minded enough to silence the doubters, he’s reluctant to replicate the formula.

“Ian Botham came out one year and Graeme Hick another time and I always felt that was a bit of a kick in the teeth,” he recalled.

“It was as if the coaches were saying, ‘You haven’t nailed it, so we are going to get an overseas batter and maybe another one after that.’

“I would take huge offence to that and the way I played my cricket was all about proving people wrong.”

While fulsome in his praise of the youngsters, Law acknowledged the batting unit had come up short in both formats with some senior players particularly under scrutiny.

All have had individual end of season debriefs looking into the dearth of runs.

“I’ve said openly we’ve more issues with batting than bowling,” Law added.

“We have got players in that dressing room that have played Test cricket or a lot of Lions’ cricket, so they’ve obviously got that quality to survive.

“But for whatever reason in county cricket they’ve hit a roadblock or a speed bump and need a bit of brutal honesty to get them moving forward and they’ve had that this week.

“We have had chats with all players in private meetings because we need more runs from the batsmen – that’s no secret.”

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