By ADRIAN MILLER
THE Far North Coast LJ Hooker (Ballina) League has always prided itself on its standard of cricket and this winter four of its stars will spread the message all the way to England.
Eastern Districts' Ian Gregory, Martin Tucker and Simon Milenko, and the Casino Cavaliers' Sam Irvine will travel to the mother country in the off-season after receiving playing contracts at three clubs.
Milenko will head to the 'cradle of cricket', the Hambledon Cricket Club in Hampshire; Gregory and Tucker will play for Hornsey, north London; while Irvine will turn out for Haywards Heath in the Sussex League after he was awarded the NSW Country Colts Scholarship for the best NSW player outside Sydney.
As part of the scholarship, Irvine will receive a free flight to England and $7000 spending money, while the club will set him up with a job, car and accommodation.
Previous winners of the scholarship include Australian vice-captain and Lismore boy Adam Gilchrist, NSW opening batsman Phil Jaques and former NSW batsman Matthew Phelps, who grew up at Clunes.
Irvine, 19, said he was thrilled with the award and hoped the five months in England would improve his game.
"On the cricket side I can't wait to get over there and play in their First XI and help train the Colts team," he said.
"I really want to go this year because I want to play cricket for a full 12 months and playing in England will hopefully be awesome for my game."
While Irvine, who will pad up for Casino in this weekend's FNC LJ Hooker (Ballina) cricket league final against Souths, will no doubt star in Sussex, Milenko will be hoping to make a name for himself at the home of modern cricket.
Hambledon was founded in 1750 and dominated English cricket so much that in 1777 they beat an All-England team by an innings and 168 runs.
The laws of cricket evolved at Hambledon and, according to an article in The Times of London, 'MCC and Lord's itself owe their existence to the men of Hambledon'.
Milenko was offered the position after Stan Gilchrist, Adam's father, was asked by the Hambledon club president if he knew of any outstanding young players the club could approach.
"I nominated Simon and that was it," Stan said. "It's a damned good deal and he'll do very well.
"They'll look after him and the coaching staff are already primed for when he arrives. It's win-win for both of them."
Milenko said he would use the season to improve his game and aim to return a better player.
Gregory, meanwhile, hopes to make an impact at the club he's returning to after he played for Hornsey when he won the NSW Country Scholarship in 2001.
Gregory, 27, who will captain the team, is looking forward to the change of scenery.
"I'm pretty settled here and enjoying everything but this is too good to refuse," he said.
"If I leave it any longer it may not happen.
"I just hope it's not too cold."