By Josh Bartholomew
Hampton School 1st XI batsman Cole Campbell has enjoyed a productive year, breaking into the Hampshire U17 team, as well as scoring 945 runs for the School last season.
Cole rushes into our interview in an out-of-breath frenzy, having come straight from cricket training, despite the looming darkness of winter which sifts through the windows where we sit.
Hard work, he tells me, is the key to his success: “I’ve had to work hard at my game. I was dropped by Middlesex at U13 level, and was rejected twice by Surrey at trials. Age group cricket is really brutal and ruthless. It was only recently that I made it into the Hampshire Academy.”
Our conversation moves onto how Cole made the step up to Senior School cricket: “I played a few 1st XI games in Fourth Year, but fully made the step up when I was in Fifth Year. My first season wasn’t brilliant personally, but it really allowed me to learn how the senior game works.
“It gave me a lot of experience. Coming up against other schools’ elite players is so different – you get much more chat from the opposition when you’re trying to concentrate. That takes a lot of getting used to!
“I was dropped by Middlesex at U13 level, and was rejected twice by Surrey at trials. Age group cricket is really brutal and ruthless.”
Cole played his part in a strong season for the Hampton School 1st XI, who won key games against some traditional cricketing powerhouses in Dulwich and Harrow. “Last season was probably one of the best years the Hampton 1st XI has had for a long time,” says Cole. “The tour to Sri Lanka at Christmas went really well both on the field and off it – we really bonded as a group (the team also won five or six games against some strong local opposition). We also had some really impressive victories, for example against Whitgift. Everyone in the team performed well in every game we played.”
Despite Cole’s reluctance we chat about his breakthrough season for the Hampshire U17s. So how exactly does a promising junior cricketer go about making their way in the county game?
“I made my U17 debut against Gloucestershire last season, and managed to score a quickfire 30 runs. This helped me get into my stride,” he tells me.
“This also gave me an opportunity in the Hampshire Academy set up, and from there I was able to play the rest of the season for them.”
But gaining an opportunity is only the first part of the challenge, as Cole freely admits.
“I played one three-day game for the Hampshire 2nd XI last season, and I didn’t perform particularly well. I’m hoping to play a few more games for them this year, but I know I’ll have to execute my skills far more successfully.
“It’s a completely different level of cricket. You play against some county bowlers who are struggling to hold down a spot in their respective 1st team. For example, I faced Paul van Meekeren (Netherlands and Somerset fast bowler). He was bowling around 85 mph – that’s something you don’t face in school cricket!”
Cole speaks of facing fast bowlers. How does one deal with such speed, I ask? “It’s normally more of a mental challenge.
“When I was facing van Meekeren, all I was originally thinking was how I wasn’t good enough to play him. I managed to get through the initial period, and after that I was able to get used to the speed.”
It’s an apt topic to end our interview on, as Cole plans to spend six months next year in New Zealand.
“I have family over there, and I plan to try and move into their county (equivalent) setup. If all goes well, I’d like to move back for the British summer and play for the Hampshire 2nd XI.
“I faced Paul van Meekeren. He was bowling 85 mph – that’s something you don’t face in schools cricket!”
“If I could, I’d love to play for their 1st XI in the near future, but I’d be competing against international batsmen such as Rilee Rossouw and James Vince!
“I plan to go to university anyway, as I’d like to continue with my studies, but I really want to carry on playing cricket on the side.”
It’s a conundrum which most promising athletes find themselves facing in this country – will attending university be of any detriment to their sporting career? Despite this, Cole Campbell seems to have his plan mapped out. Remember the name.