What do you if you are desperate to get into professional cricket but also need an education?
That's the dilemma of millions of young cricketers around the world, especially if you are from India, where the pressure from parents to get a trade as an engineer or business manager are as strong as the passion for the game. It's a regular question sent in here to PitchVision Academy; how do I choose?
What if you didn't have to choose at at all?
I recently discovered an unused loophole for young people to get closer to their dreams of cricket without giving up an education: British University cricket. And yes, it even applies to players in India, Australia and any other corner of the world. It's not just for the English.
Playing cricket in England
The realisation that there is a gap for Indian players to exploit came about during my recent visit to Matt Thompson and the squad at Cardiff Met University. We were discussing the huge growth in overseas students into the University in general; a trend that is the same across the UK. Then Matt dropped a bombshell.
"So, how many more overseas students are in the squad this year?", I asked.
"That's the strange thing," he confessed "We had our trials recently and 120 people turned up. 5 were overseas students and none were good enough to get into the squad."
It hit me right then.
Here we are at PitchVision Academy getting daily emails and messages from talented cricketers who would do anything to play. I know many of the same boys have parents who are equally keen for them to get a high class education. There is Matt at University level - a level that is designed to accommodate the twin demands of cricket and degree education - wondering where all the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cricketers are.
Something is going wrong.
Is University cricket good?
Perhaps it's a marketing issue. University cricket is not seen as serious by the rest of the world. It's a way to relax when lectures are done. There is no way it's going to give you the chance to be a cricketer.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, there are many Universities that feed into the MCCU system. The MCCU (formerly UCCE) is the high performance branch of the University system and competes at County Academy level. Oxford and Cambridge are MCCU and also have first-class status. While the others are not first-class, they are of a similar standard. In short, this is a breeding ground for professional cricket.
Second, even at the level below (BUCS) the game is taken seriously. Take Cardiff Met who have a full programme of men's and women's cricket lead by a Director of Coaching. After spending time with Matt at a couple of coaching sessions I quickly realised the quality of the coaching was as good as it gets outside the professional game. With a squad of over 30 competing for places and the chance to progress to Cardiff MCCU, this is no sideline, this is serious cricket.
Get a chance with this loophole
Normally this level of coaching and competition is reserved for County Academy level, but overseas players can't get in there without qualifying for England.
However, anyone can play University cricket as long as you are a student.
That's a huge loophole that can be exploited.
Imagine you are a young man in India who wants his chance to play. Maybe you don't need to imagine, it's happening to you right now. Imagine your parents are pressuring you to become an engineer. Maybe you don't need to imagine that either. For many reading this, the situation is all too familiar.
So, you work hard at your studies and you decide to continue your education overseas. You also work hard at your cricket and decide to pick a University in the UK that feeds into an MCCU programme. This is your chance to show the world that you can play.
And, on the off chance your parents were right all along, if you don't make it you have a high quality degree at the end of your three or more years in England. Congratulations, you're a success either way.
Of course, we can't forget that a British University education is expensive. For that reason alone many cricketers can't use the option. Yet, there are more and more people arriving in the UK specifically to gain a prestigious degree. For some, perhaps you, the money is available and the quality of learning is worthwhile.
If it's an option for you, take it and exploit the loophole.