Could the key to a better Aussie cricket team be getting more kids playing backyard cricket?
That's the question 11-year-old Hayden Searl posed - and answered with a resounding yes - coming up with an idea to get children playing more backyard sports.
Hayden is part of the Catholic Schools' Virtual Academy (VA) where gifted learners research a range of real-world challenges and come up with solutions.
The self-confessed cricket tragic, a year 5 student at St Joseph's Primary School at East Maitland, chose to investigate the decline in backyard sports and what could be done to encourage more children to be active.
Nearly every person likes one sort of sport.Hayden Searl
In recognition for his impressive research, Hayden has received a special "Virtual Academy Personal Best Award" from the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office.
The Virtual Academy enables gifted students in Years 5-8 from across the Maitland-Newcastle diocese to engage with like-minded learners who benefit from extension and enrichment opportunities.
Sally Brock is the education officer responsible for the delivery of Gifted Education across the diocese.
"We have 70 students enrolled in the academy. Just like Hayden, they are all invited to complete units of work with integrated research on local, national and global issues," Ms Brock said.
"We place a strong focus on critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving to develop self-esteem, intrapersonal skills, academic outcomes and increase engagement."
Students are supported by Virtual Academy teachers, their class teachers and Gifted Education Mentors in the schools.
Hayden created an online survey asking peers and adults about their views on how the decline in backyard sport is impacting health. He analysed the responses - including a detailed response from a lecturer in Sports Science at The University of Newcastle - and designed a solution.
Hayden wants to see rooftop green spaces and pitches to become commonplace in high rise units in metropolitan areas.
Developing an App
He is also keen to further develop an App he has started to design. 'Have a Hit' will enable kids keen for a game of cricket to post their location to connect with other players.
Hayden chose his project earlier in the year when he the Australian cricket team were in a bit of a slump.
He started to question if playing less backyard cricket - due to population growth, urban sprawl and increased use of technology - might be affecting the Australian cricket team.
"Although they are number one in the world now," he's quick to admit.
Fueling his idea for the research project was picking up his father Luke's copy of the book 'First Tests' by Steve Cannane about Australian cricketers and the backyards that made them.
The book takes a peek into the childhood backyard of cricketing legends. It details how Don Bradman's unique grip, stance and backlift all evolved in response to the pace at which the golf ball rebounded off the tank stand in his backyard.
Hayden particularly liked the story of Allan Border and Brett Lee's backyards.
"Allan Border's pitch was apparently super bouncy," he said.
He cites Travis Head as his current favourite player as they share the same brand of bat and both are left-handed batsmen.
While he has a phone himself, Hayden says unlike many he's usually outside playing some sort of sport, riding his mountain bike, running around or in the pool with his siblings.
He believes the key to getting other kids off their phones and outside is pretty simple.
"I think you should make them do it once and I reckon they will like it," he said.
"Nearly every person likes one sort of sport."
Hayden's a batsman with Tenambit Morpeth Under 12s team and in the Winter he straps on his footy boots to play either five eighth or halfback for the Morpeth Bulls Rugby League Club.
When the family lived in Raworth he started playing cricket on their quiet road with older kids in the neighbourhood.
The family's move to Bolwarra on a busier road put an end to road cricket but the plus side was a "massive" backyard where there are regular games with mates.
"We've got bricks so the bounce is pretty mean," he said. "My dad bowls to me."
Younger brother Jude, who's 6 and Audrey, 8, sometimes play too.
"The game usually ends with me hitting the ball over the fence".
Hayden loves to chase the runs: "I block if it is a good ball, whack it if it isn't. But there's a lot of bad balls."
If we hit it into the pool we just jump in to get it. A lot of time we hit it in on purpose just to get in the pool.Hayden Searl
Finding shade on the other side of the picket fence is enough of a struggle in the harsh, hot Australian sun - how does he managed standing in the field all day when the thermometer hits 40C?
Hayden says his T20 games are over in just under three hours, but he would dearly love to play the long game of Test cricket.
"I just love it. On those days I was talking about with my friends, a lot of the time it is 40 degrees or more and we just keep playing.
"If we hit it into the pool we just jump in to get it.
"A lot of time we hit it in on purpose just to get in the pool."
Hayden said the Virtual Academy had "definitely taught me to be more resilient". He has relished the challenge of not having all the answers.
"A lot of days I'd be like oh no. Before Virtual Academy everything came to me in an instant. This has actually been hard."
The school's gifted education mentor, Jess Palmer, was also Hayden's class teacher last year described him as a "beautiful young man."
"Hayden's really big on social justice and rules and fairness," said Mrs Palmer.
"He has all these interests that really bring out the best in him and the Virtual Academy really supports his needs in that area."
Do you know you can subscribe to get full access to all Maitland Mercury stories? Subscribing supports us in our local news coverage. To subscribe, click here.