ENGLAND captain Joe Root is backing an innovative cricket academy set to be launched in Colchester.

The Sigma Sixth cricket academy, which will based at the new Northern Gateway, will offer a foundation for teenagers aged between 16 and 18 wanting to pursue a career in cricket while gaining academic qualifications.

It will be run by the Sigma Trust, a local partnership of academies in north-east Essex, in alliance with the Root Academy, founded by Joe Root's father Matt and endorsed by the current England Test skipper.

The course will also link in with Essex CCC and Essex Eagles and local cricket clubs.

Root said: “The Cricket Academy is a fantastic environment for young players to enhance their skills, both mentally and physically.

"To be able to train during the winter throughout the week is just like being a professional; catch the opportunity with both hands!”

Cricket-mad students will have the option of studying either a BTEC National Extended Diploma in Sport, equivalent to three A levels, or three separate A levels of their choice, alongside high-quality cricket coaching and development.

It will be run at the new state-of-the-art Northern Gateway sports hub by the Sigma Trust, which consists of 12 schools - eight secondary and four infant/junior schools.

They are Alton Park Junior School, Clacton County High School, Colne Community School and College, Harwich & Dovercourt High School, Holland Park Primary School, Monkwick Infant and Nursery School, Monkwick Junior School, Paxman Academy, Philip Morant School and College, St Helena School, The Stanway School and TLA.

Sigma are re-branding their sixth form provision across the Trust to form Sigma Sixth Tendring, based at the Tendring Education Centre and Sigma Sixth Colchester which will run across three sites - Philip Morant Sixth Form, Essex University and the new £25m Northern Gateway Sports Complex.

The football, rugby and cricket academies will be based at the Northern Gateway sports complex, the Basketball Academy will be based at Essex University as part of the Essex Rebels Academy and the Golf Academy will partner with Colne Valley Golf Club.

As the new Sigma Sixth Sports Academy (formerly Colne Sports Academy) they will run Sports Academies in Football, Rugby, Basketball, Golf and Cricket for both boys and girls and will be looking to expand to other sports in the future.

Sigma Director of Sport Jon Taylor said: "Having ran sports academies at the Colne in Brightlingsea over the last 15 years, achieving success at local, regional and National level, we are so excited to be able to move to brand new state of the art facilities in Colchester, working in partnership with a number of providers and organisations.

"With our Post 16 students being able to combine level 3 study though either BTEC or A level pathways with their chosen sport, receiving the very best coaching and development from highly-qualified professionals, the future for our young people looks very bright indeed.

"They will have the option of going onto University if they so wish, or to pursue a career in sport through a wide variety of roles whilst having the time of their lives."

Young cricketers involved in the programme will have access to at least six hours of coaching per week, in addition to any games that may be scheduled for them.

If the course in Colchester is successful, it is likely to be introduced in other parts of the country.

Root Academy founder Matt Root said: "When we created the R66T Academy our intention was to try to provide some form of vocational accreditation for aspiring young cricketers.

"Our partnership with Sigma Sixth gives us the opportunity to do this for the first time.

"When my boys, Joe and Billy were at school age I would have had no hesitation in suggesting they sign up to the course.

"It is the ideal foundation for young boys and girls wanting to pursue a career in cricket."

Colchester's Ben Stephens, who runs the successful PiriPiri Cricket Coaching and is Executive Director at the Root Academy, will help oversee the new academy and performance programme.

He says the academy offers a fantastic opportunity for youngsters in the area.

Stephens said: "It's incredibly exciting, to have this here on our doorstep.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity for young people in the area and it will be based at a brand new facility, just off the A12.

"It will offer exciting opportunities for those involved to play against academies and Minor Counties teams all across the country and play in National competitions.

"It will offer between six to 12 hours of coaching every single week, which is fantastic.

"I only wish it had been around when I was younger!"