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Rising star Blake Cullen: Cricket is a game I’ll play for the rest of my life

By Paul Wilkinson

17-year-old Blake Cullen, a member of the Hampton School first XI squad since Year 10, arrives promptly to our makeshift interviewing set-up. Having enjoyed such a successful cricket season last Summer for both school and county, the thought that Blake may have placed all of his eggs in the cricketing basket would not be far-fetched. However our first conversation reflects how difficult it is to sustain such a demanding sporting life with balancing a school workload too. 

Blake recalls his breakthrough season for the Middlesex second XI last year, and claims that not only was this season crucial for his development, but was also great fun as he “travelled up and down the country playing cricket and making memories every day”.  

All-rounder – Cullen swinging the willow

The Hamptonian had to earn his stripes first with Middlesex Under 17s. It was when he achieved season-best bowling figures of 3/49 that he was chosen to represent the second XI. He ended last season successful not only with the ball, but with the bat too as he reached 51 against Kent second XI despite batting in the lower order. 

Naturally, our conversation moves onto whether Blake considers himself an all-rounder, as he has proven that he can perform in both areas of the game. Though batting used to be his stronger suit, Cullen recognises that now “if I were to have a professional career, it would be as a bowler”. However, what epitomises Blake both as a person and as a sportsman is a determination to keep on improving in any way he can. This is why he wants to work on “how I bat against spin bowling as I struggled with it last Summer on the dry pitches”. 

The Summer of 2018 culminated with a call-up to play for the South East England XI. This acted as a springboard for Blake as he played against teams from the South West, the North and the Midlands, and now he has his sights set on making the Young Lions squad either this summer or during the following winter.  

“That is why the training camp in La Manga in February will be so important for my development,” says Blake in reference to the spring get-together comprising eight of the top tier academy players as well as five from the Middlesex first XI. With Toby Roland-Jones (OH 2007) also scheduled to take part as he battles the fitness issues that kept him out of the England side last Summer, the school can celebrate a Hamptonian reunion. 

Injuries have played a part in Blake’s career too, and denied him some opportunities that he deserved through his hard work. Most significantly, he had to pull out of the England U19 Winter Squad because of a back injury: “I went to Loughborough to have a scan and effectively I had a stress in my back which had been caused by bowling all Summer. Of course it was disappointing to miss out, but in the long-term my fitness has to come first”. 

Healthy now and rested, the school does not have to worry about the fitness of one of its star players, who led the team to victory over the Oratory School last season with a century. The first I will look to beat many fellow leading cricket schools after a season full of mixed results last year. Blake mirrors this sentiment when he says that “last year was very much about experience as we had a young but talented side. We will approach the upcoming season looking to defeat many of the country’s top sides”. Cullen hopes to emulate the successes that he was a part of with the first XI in the  2016/2017 season, where both Whitgift and Harrow were defeated by a strong and confident team. These moments are amongst Blake’s proudest memories of his time at the school. 

Blake smiles when he notes that “this season will be great fun as there is good team morale and many of my mates will hopefully make the side”. This is crucial in understanding how Blake has become so good at the game, as it all it comes down to enjoyment. When I suggest this, Blake nods in agreement. “Ever since my dad took me down to my local cricket club, Wycombe House, I have loved the game and never looked back”. The importance of enjoyment is reflected in his only piece of advice for any young cricketers – that they “must love the game, as it can be quite boring to field for three days”.   

Following in the footsteps of both Toby Roland-Jones and Zafar Ansari (OH 2010), Blake admits he wants to go to university and play cricket whilst he is there. His love of the game shines once again as he says “whilst I do not know if I will become professional, it is a game that I will play for the rest of my life”.  

“Playing for Middlesex is my dream”, he adds – and I ask him to name his inspiration and role model. “My idol would have to be A.B. de Villiers. He plays the game without fear and that is the way I like to do it”.  

It is clear that Blake has a lot going for him, and I am sure that the school community will wish him the best of luck in his cricketing endeavours. There again – as Blake says –  “who knows what the future holds”. 

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