The major part of my role as National Talent Manager with Cricket Australia (CA) is my involvement with our Under-19 program.
It begins each season with my attendance at the Under-17 and Under-19 National Championships during the Australian summer season.
As Chairman of CA’s Youth Selection Panel (YSP) I, along with the six State Talent Managers, Troy Cooley as Head Coach of the Centre of Excellence (COE) and Stuart Law, who is Performance Coach at the COE and Head Coach of the Under-19 Team, select a squad of 26 of the best Under-18 talent in the country to attend a Talent Camp at the COE each February.
From this year’s Under-18 Talent Camp the YSP has chosen a squad of 14 to travel to New Zealand to play a series of matches against the New Zealand Under-19 team in Christchurch.
The series begins with a three-day game commencing on Easter Saturday and is followed by three One-Day Internationals (ODI) in the following week. All games will be played at the picturesque Bert Sutcliffe Oval, which is situated at the campus of Lincoln University.
This will be the first of three series that the Under-19 squad will play this year as a lead-in to the next ICC Under-19 World Cup, which will be held in Dubai next February.
India and New Zealand will come to Australia for a series in Darwin in late June, while we will travel to India in September for another series. We are also planning to play a short series in the sub-continent early next year on the way to the World Cup.
If recent history is anything to go by, the squad that has been chosen for this series in New Zealand will form the bulk of the ICC Under-19 World Cup team next year.
The only one missing from this tour that played in the last World Cup is Alex Gregory from South Australia. Alex is an all-rounder who is recovering from a back injury at present.
If he regains fitness, Alex is most likely to play in the Darwin series and will be one of the contenders to captain the next World Cup team.
On this tour we have a talented squad which contains representatives from all states plus two exciting young spinners from the Northern Territory.
Tom Andrews is a left-arm finger spinner who bats well and Joel Logan bowls right-arm leg spin.
The emergence of these two youngsters hot on the heels of the recent success of Kane Richardson is a credit to the Northern Territory Institute of Sport cricket program and it augurs well for Australian cricket.
Considering the excellent Cricket ACT development program which has unearthed talent such as Nathan Lyon, the Territories are delivering quality young talent to the national system.
The pace bowling in this series will be led by Matthew Fotia, Ben Ashkenazi and Guy Walker who are all from Victoria along with Billy Stanlake from Queensland.
At 203cm Stanlake is by far the tallest, but will need to be eased back into bowling in this series due to some recent injuries.
Cameron Valente is a medium pace bowling all-rounder from South Australia. He relies on accuracy and a clever variety of deliveries to achieve his success. He has made this team on the back of a successful Under-19 carnival in which he was instrumental in his state winning the title. He is an intelligent lower order batsman who fields well.
The batting line-up is a good mix of aggressive and solid performers. One of the big challenges for this series will be to give them all enough opportunities to showcase their talents.
All performed well for their states in the recent under-age championships and each will be keen to back those performances up at this level. Left-handers are well represented in this squad with Jake Doran (NSW), Kelvin Smith (SA) and Jaron Morgan (WA).
Jake is one of the younger members of the squad at 16 and he is the younger brother of Luke Doran, who played in the victorious Australian 2010 ICC Under-19 World Cup team. Jake also keeps wickets and bowls left-arm seamers.
Kelvin, who offers some off-spin options as a second string is the younger brother of James Smith who has represented South Australia at the senior level, while Jaron is a strongly built, hard-hitting batsman who also keeps wickets.
To keep the family theme going, we have Ben McDermott, son of Craig and brother of Alister who also played in the successful 2010 ICC Under-19 World Cup team, who is performing well for Queensland and has represented Australia at senior level in the Australia A side. Ben is an exciting batting talent and will be one of the wicket keepers on this tour.
The final three batsmen in the squad are Damien Mortimer (NSW), Matthew Short (VIC) and Dean Willis (TAS).
All are right handers with Damien and Dean being powerfully built, while Matthew is taller and a free-flowing player who likes to drive the ball on the up. Matthew will need to be more selective with which deliveries he drives at in New Zealand conditions where the new ball can move around off the seam more than it does in Australia.
The tour will be a great experience for these lads, most of whom are here for the first time. While we always set out to win each game and each series, the main aim of this tour will be to develop their talent and their leadership skills by exposing them to different experiences on and off the field.
It is important for everyone to remember that a cricket tour at this stage of their development is only part of the journey, not a destination in itself.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia