By RUSSELL BENNETT
EMERALD Cricket Club’s search for a new coach to take it into an exciting new era at WGCA Premier level has finished a little closer to home than some might have expected.
Star batsman A.J. Walker – the inspirational, lead-by-example skipper of the Emerald firsts over the past two seasons – will take on the role at just 24-years-of-age.
With a strong leadership group around him, led by newly appointed assistant – and former skipper – Clint Marsh, the club has complete confidence in Walker’s ability to get the best out of the Bombers’ group.
Emerald’s Second XI skipper Jarred Gillespie said the club hadn’t gone down the ‘professional’ line before in searching for a coach, and acknowledged that the club’s distance from other leagues closer to the city may have put off some potential candidates.
“But when we started looking from within the club, A.J. was the obvious choice,” Gillespie said.
“If he applied from another club – with his playing record – we’d have looked at him straight away.”
Walker topped the district-grade batting averages last season with a whopping 703 runs from 14 innings – at a shade under 64 per knock.
The club is flush with top-class, young talent capable of competing at the top of the league for many seasons to come. And it’s not just the side’s first grade with an exciting array of talent. The club is strong across all its grades.
The club has relied on the tireless work of local favourites Rod Smith and Matt Cox over recent years to guide its young charges but was unable to secure a coach last season.
Smith watched over the Bombers’ bowlers in 2012/13. Cox – Emerald Cricket Club’s most accomplished player – mentored the club’s batsmen while, himself, playing with Ashburton Cricket Club.
With many of Emerald’s players between the ages of 19 and 21, and a strong core group led by the likes of Walker, Marsh, stoic opening batsman Mark Alenson, young wicket-keeper batsman Ryan Scott and seamer Cam Williams, it seems the Bombers are on the verge of an era of sustained success.
Emerald defeated league favourites Nar Nar Goon/Maryknoll on enemy soil late last month to snare the WGCA District title.
“It’s a great reward for effort,” Walker said immediately following the game.
Adding his boys were really looking forward to their chance at Premier level, acknowledging it was a huge incentive for the side.
“That’s what we’ve been striving for the last few years, and I think we’ll be really competitive,” he said.
“We’ve got a young side with a good mix of players and (we’re) really looking forward to it.”