JAMES Coles praised Oxfordshire’s partnership with Sussex after it was extended for a further five years.

In May, the 17-year-old became the first product of the programme to sign a professional contract with the county, having joined the pathway when he was 12.

The Magdalen College School pupil became Sussex’s second-youngest player last September, with former Oxon teammate Harrison Ward also transitioning into the first-team this summer.

Several more bright talents are expected to follow in their footsteps after the partnership, in place since 2013, was extended until 2026.

“I couldn’t be more grateful,” Coles said.

“As soon as you get exposed to even the simple things, like training at Hove, it makes it so much more comfortable.

“I remember being told ‘we want you to come here as much as possible, so you stop being nervous but walk in like you belong’. That stuck with me.

“I go there a lot, so I always try to feel comfortable and that I deserve to be there.

“The level of coaching is very good, with (Magdalen College School head coach) Alan Duncan leading it.

“He’s been my coach the majority of my career and he’s helped me so much with everything I do.”

Several Oxon youngsters have been part of the Sussex Academy, with more expected to progress in the next intake.

Freddie Smith and Zach Lion-Cachet have played for the coastal county’s Under 18s and the men’s second XI, with Dylan Driscoll and Kalan Niyarepola representing the Under 15s.

Sussex coaches also support their Oxon colleagues with player development, attending Emerging Players Programme sessions and providing advice.

The county has made financial support available to Oxon’s talent development programmes and coaching staff, led by performance director Matthew Barnes and Duncan.

Sussex’s performance director Keith Greenfield said: “There has been so much work put in over the last eight years and to know we have a further five years’ work to do is great.

“The partnership doubles the size of our own playing pool but also means Oxfordshire Cricket receives the staff and resources for it to continue to be the best national county programme for players and staff.

“This is hugely important and a key priority in our strategy of producing quality first-class and international cricketers from within our own pathway systems.

“We are already seeing elite players joining the club, like James Coles.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with Chris Clements, Matthew Barnes, Alan Duncan and our other partners in Oxfordshire.”

Chief executive Rob Andrew added: “I am confident we’ll see more young Oxfordshire cricketers follow in their footsteps in the next few years.”