Josh Tongue's recent first class debut for Worcestershire again highlighted the importance of the Worcestershire Pathway in developing cricketers for the County.

The Pathway, which comes under the umbrella of the Worcestershire Cricket Board Limited, is responsible for nurturing the cream of local talent from the Under 9s through to Under-17s.

Tongue has been involved all the way from Under-10 level before graduating to the county's Academy, earning his first professional contract and then making the first team breakthrough against Oxford MCCU.

Daryl Mitchell, Brett D'Oliveira and Ben Cox have also progressed into the senior set-up via the Pathway.

But it is also has another important role in ensuring that those youngsters deemed not good enough to make the grade as professional cricketers, enjoy the Pathway experience sufficiently to remain part of the game as club players, coaches, scorers, groundsmen and even lifelong WCCC fans etc.

Andy Sutton, the Performance Development Officer for Worcestershire Cricket Board Ltd, said: "We have two main goals, one of which is promoting cricketers to go onto the Academy and hopefully play for the first team and go on from there. The second is keeping these guys involved in cricket.

"A great example of that is someone like Josh Tongue who has been involved with us since he was six years old when he played for the Under-10s.

"He was a very talented boy from an early age. Josh has always been in the top 5-10% of our cricketers. He had a stress fracture in his back at 15 which put him back a little bit but then got brought onto the Academy after proving his fitness at 16.

"He worked very hard with his Strengthen and Conditioning work, and on the Academy, had a great time last year with the Seconds, and he has pushed onto to make his debut.

"It is great to see someone who has come through our programme and our goal is to make as many cricketers as we can follow the same path into the professional game with Worcestershire.

"We have Ben Cox, Brett D'Oliveira, Daryl Mitchell and now Josh Tongue who have come through of the current squad via the Pathway.

"Jack Haynes and Josh Haynes on the current Academy have also come through from the Pathway.

"It is a big part of Worcestershire cricket and because we are not as big a club financially as the Surreys, Warwickshires etc, we have to produce our own cricketers and my relationship with the Academy Director (Elliot Wilson) and the Director of Cricket (Steve Rhodes) is important."

However Sutton, who is assisted by 20-25 coaches in the different age groups of the Pathway, stressed that producing first team players was not the Pathway's only goal.

He said: "It is so difficult to become a professional cricketer and 95% of those on the Pathway are probably not going to make it so you've got to give them a good experience while with us so they will continue playing cricket into their 20s and 30s.

"There is a recreational side so it is important to make sure their experience of cricket at an early age is nice so to ensure they want to carry on at the best possible level or become umpires, scorers, coaches, groundsman.

"My job is not just about producing the next professional cricketer. It is about making sure we keep as many people in the game as possible and if they have a good experience with us, there is more chance of them remaining involved in the game."

So how do players progress onto the Pathway and the road to possibly emulating Mitchell, Cox, D'Oliveira, Tongue and Co?

Sutton, who played for Somerset and MCC Young Cricketers, explained: "During the summer we have a nominations process so schools, clubs can put forward the cricketers they feel are good enough to come onto the Pathway.

"We collate all those nominations, get them altogether and we have four weeks of trials in October at Malvern College and assess the boys in nets and fielding stations although we try to make them as relaxed as possible and make it not feel like 'a trial'

"We assess them, give the boys feedback as to whether they have made it or not, and then we pick a squad of around 35-40 for each age group.

"For 11 to 15 year-olds, we've got 35-40 and then we have our 17s programme which has about 25-27 lads on it.

"We try and assess the boys year in and year out. Obviously boys develop at different stages, different stages of growth, so we look at their stats. Each year the guys will go back into trials and we will reassess them.

"We also have a Development Of Excellence Group and those are for the top 5-10% of cricketers in all the age groups and we give them extra training sessions."