Palladino urges action over cricket facilities
Tony Palladino has called for action to be taken over the lack of cricket facilities in East London
By JONATHAN CLEGG
Tony Palladino has never been afraid of going the extra mile in pursuit of success.
On the final day of the county cricket season last September, the promising Essex seam bowler packed up his whites and the following day flew out to Australia to spend the winter playing grade cricket in an effort to improve his game.
No sooner had Palladino returned home in February, having taken 28 wickets and earned the Melbourne club's top bowling award, than he was off again - to Abu Dhabi this time, where the 25-year-old helped Essex defeat Middlesex in last month's Emirates Airline Pro ARCH Trophy final.
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Yet despite travelling halfway round the world in an effort to build on the five first-class appearances he made for the county last year, there is no journey that can match how far Palladino has already come.
Born in Whitechapel in 1983, Palladino was introduced to cricket from a young age by his father, a former semi-professional footballer who became a useful medium-pace bowler in the Kent League.
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His earliest memories both revolve around cricket: seeing his father hit 14 off the last over of a cup final to win the game and endlessly watching repeats of his childhood idol Ian Botham taking on Australia in the 1981 Ashes.
But growing up in the East End, Palladino's attempts to emulate his two cricketing heroes appeared destined to end in frustration.
Then, as now, there was not a single grass cricket square in the borough of Tower Hamlets. For Palladino, a pupil at Holy Family Primary School in Poplar, bowling took place on the covered concrete nets at Victoria Park or the dusty wicket his father had drawn out closer to home.
"All the bowling I did back then was at Victoria Park in the Astroturf nets over there or in the back garden - during the summer I was out there everyday bowling and batting with my Dad," Palladino says.
"I played my first ever game of cricket at the age of eight for Tower Hamlets [Primary Schools] at Arundel. That was the first time I'd ever played on a grass wicket, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire."
Perhaps it was those hours in the garden that helped Palladino flourish in the unfamiliar conditions, because his performance was so impressive that he was instantly promoted to the London Schools Under-11s side.
His exploits for London Schools led to an invitation to play for Wanstead Cricket Club and ultimately to a professional contract with Essex, but Palladino acknowledges that he has been fortunate to carve out a career in cricket.
Despite the sport's huge popularity among the current generation of East London youngsters, without a grass cricket square in the borough, Palladino admits few will have an opportunity to play at the highest level.
"When I used to play for Tower Hamlets 10 years ago, we had to play in Walthamstow and it's really disappointing," he says.
"With the rise in cricket at the moment, there's bound to be so much talent out there. Hackney Marshes has the most football pitches in Europe and it wouldn't be hard to take a few of those pitches away and put a cricket square in.
"There's definitely a lot of untapped potential in East London - they've just got be given a chance.
"I was very lucky that I was spotted at a young age and that's what got me involved with district cricket and county cricket quite early.
"But it shouldn't really be like that. There should be an opportunity for everyone to show what they can do."
As Palladino prepares to continue his journey in top-flight cricket this summer, he remains hopeful that the East London youngsters following in his footsteps will not have to travel quite so far.