Tom Haines has a story to tell his classmates as he returns to A Level studies this week after becoming Sussex’s youngest first-class debutant for 46 years.
The Hurstpierpoint College pupil made an unexpected County Championship bow against Kent last week aged 17 and among the spectators was former Sussex captain John Barclay, who was 16 when he made his debut in 1970.
Haines’ elevation to the first team won’t have come as a massive surprise to many at Hove. The opening batsman has been in Sussex’s age group set-up since he was 10 years old and got his opportunity after making more than 400 second-team runs.
Head coach Mark Davis describes the left-hander, who celebrates his 18th birthday on October 28, as ‘a really fine prospect.’
Nonetheless, Haines, who is part of England’s Development Programme, admitted to plenty of nerves when he walked out after discovering on Tuesday that he was going to make his debut the following day.
“I was always going to be nervous. It was the biggest day of my career so far but hopefully there are going to be a few more days like that to come,” he said.
Haines was caught at slip for a fifth-ball duck in the first innings but looked much more at ease in his second dig, stylishly easing Darren Stevens to the mid-wicket boundary to collect his first runs, a stroke which earned him the biggest round of applause of the day from the Sussex crowd.
The only disappointment was that his parents were on holiday and missed his debut.
“I felt a lot better in the second innings,” he said. “It was nice to get off the mark and I felt everyone was behind me but then I got a ball that climbed on me a bit. I tried to guide it to fine leg but it took the glove.
“But I really enjoyed every minute of it, even the fielding. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to come.”
Haines will return to his studies for another year to complete his A Levels but in a year’s time he hopes to have earned himself his first pro contract.
Sussex’s stand-in captain Ben Brown has no doubts that he has a bright future. “He will have learned a lot from his first game,” said Brown, who could sympathise with Haines after making a duck on his Championship debut in 2010.
“He looks a good player. Against an experienced attack he lined the ball up well and nothing seems to faze him. You can’t learn about what it’s like to face good bowlers in tough conditions in schools or second team cricket so the experience he’s getting will be valuable going forward. But he’s definitely got something about him.”