Batting to join the pros

30th May 2003 at 01:00
Roddy Mackenzie meets a teenager who is well on the way to fulfilling his dreams in cricket

Robert Cannon is 16 but already an established player in the Scottish National Cricket League as a middle-order batsman for Forfarshire in the Premier Division and a member of Scotland's under-19 squad.

His cricket ambitions know no boundaries. As he pursues Higher exams at Dundee High, he dreams of making it in the professional ranks.

He could hardly have considered such lofty thoughts when his parents first saw an advertisement in the local newspaper inviting children to a cricket taster at Forfarshire Cricket Club, based at Forthill Sports Club in Broughty Ferry. His father had played at local league level in Yorkshire before moving north when Robert was a few months old.

As a nine year-old, Robert tried his hand at kwik cricket and took to it.

His school, Eastern Primary in Broughty Ferry, proved rather good at the game and won the Scottish title before going on to the national finals at Edgbaston.

Within a year, Robert had graduated to the full game. Forfarshire CC had an established youth structure, with under-13, under-15 and under-17 teams, overseen by Australian professional Peter Drinnen, who has recently gone on to become national development officer for the sport.

"Robert has been playing first XI cricket for Forfarshire now for the past 12 months. He has a great maturity for his age, is calm, controlled and entirely stable," says Mr Drinnen.

"He has shown he has the ability to play at a high level. He's very skilful. If he is maybe not as highly skilled as some players around, it is the whole package that impresses with Robert. He knows what his limitations are but he has the intelligence to play within them, and that is difficult for someone of such a young age to grasp.

"Not just cricket but sport in general is as much about mental approach as physical attributes. Robert has the right frame of mind to be a success."

There are other players and coaches at the club that Robert can learn from.

Brad Murphy, another Australian, is coach now and the South African professional Ryan Watson is there too.

"I learn a lot from the professionals at the club and I feel my game is improving all the time," says Robert. "Peter Drinnen has been a big influence but I'm getting a lot of help from Brad Murphy now."

Robert, who describes himself as a defensive batsman, practises three times a week and plays every Saturday and Sunday. In addition to national league commitments with Forfarshire, he attends national squad practice with the under-19s in Edinburgh every second Sunday. He hopes to play for the under-19s in the European Championships in the Netherlands this summer and there could be a chance to play in the under-19s World Cup in Bangladesh next year.

"There are more and more young players like myself getting the chance to play in the Scottish League and that can only be good," he says.

"There is a gap between the professionals that come over here from the likes of Australia and South Africa and our top senior players. But I'm sure it's not as big as it once was and I think it's closing all the time."

Lately, Robert has been trying to balance his cricket commitments with his academic work. He is sitting Higher exams in English, maths, history, the classics and geography.

"It's difficult just now trying to squeeze my cricket in between all my studying and exams but, thankfully, my exams will be finished by the time it comes to Scotland trials and games," he says.

Robert could have the option to go to university, depending on his exam results, but first he would like to see how far he can go in cricket.

"Through Peter Drinnen, I'm hoping to get to Australia for six months after I finish school and be attached to a club out there," he says. "It would be a great learning process and a great chance to learn from some top Australian players.

"There are more chances for people to make a living in the game in Scotland now that the Scottish Saltires have started playing English counties. It is a very important step forward for the game here and I think more opportunities will be created on the back of the team."

"Whether I make it as a professional or not, I think I'll always play cricket as I love the game so much. The good thing about it is that you can play at any level and get just as much enjoyment out of it."

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