Diary from the European Academy in Mumbai

Tue, Apr 1, 2008 2:34 PM

The purpose of staging the European Academy is to identify and select the most talented young European cricketers from the ages of 17 – 22 to help them develop as players through top coaching and excellent support services to help them reach their potential as international cricketers. However, this year's Academy was different to previous academies. Over the past few years, it has been held at the La Manga sports club in Spain. This year, it was decided that the European Academy would be held in Mumbai, India so as to provide the selected players with a chance to train and play in an unaccustomed environment. Players were selected from Ireland, Holland, Scotland, Israel, Guernsey and Gibraltar respectively.

Day 1: Monday 25th February

Not long after touching down in Mumbai after a 9-hour flight from Heathrow, it was straight down to business with a short but intense fielding session at the Brabourne Stadium, scene of the 2006 Champions trophy final between the Australia and the West Indies. During the session we did various drills ranging from high catches to sharp ground fielding as well as separate drills for the 4 wicket- keepers selected. What was apparent after the session was the impact the heat had on us as the majority, if not all, somewhat found it tough going training in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees. All in all, the standards set were high, and after a long day, we looked forward to some much needed sleep before commencing our daily dosage of double net sessions the following day.

Day 2: Tuesday 26th February

There was an early start for the bowlers as coach Stuart Barnes arranged a stretching session at the hotel pool. Then at 0930 a.m., we all gathered at the beautiful Brabourne Stadium for a general net session. We went through a thorough warm-up in order to prepare our bodies better for the hard work that was to follow, but at the same time, we were all eager to get started and see how we would fare on typically red, dusty Indian wickets for the first time.

We were all separated into different groups, each dependant on our major disciplines, under the watchful eyes of the ICC Europe coaching staff led by Philip Hudson. We were also given the opportunity to work with various coaches from the Global Cricket School. The 6 batters were paired up with 2 working together in each of the nets available. The seamers all gathered at the far net whilst the spinners congregated round the rather warn out track, licking their lips at the thought of bowling on wickets that could make the ball literally turn square for them. Even so early on, I could see some of the batters in the spinners net surprised by the amount of turn been generated by Irish spinners Gary Kidd and Andy Poynter as well as Israeli Solomon Varsulkar. However, I had to wait my turn to face the spinners as I moved on to the seamer's net first. Early morning starts in India are good times to be bowling seam up as the dew factor kicks in. I felt in decent touch facing the quick men but had to be extremely watchful as the new ball was zipping around substantially. As an opener myself who is not used to playing regularly on grass wickets, I found that amount of time facing the seamers very useful as I could try to figure out ways in adapting my game to that sort of bowling under those conditions.

Next up was what I had been waiting for since I got the call up to the squad, the chance to practice playing against spin in spin-friendly conditions. From ball one I knew it was not going to be easy and so it was good practice making sure I played the ball extremely late, perhaps using my feet more often or rocking back inside the crease to look to work the ball around. These kinds of wickets I believe enabled us all to figure out new and different game plans against the turning ball. In general, the session was extremely beneficial for the players and the amount of turn generated by the spinners was a hot topic of conversation as we all gathered for some lunch at the C.C.I. cafeteria.

After lunch, we headed back to the Brabourne Stadium for our afternoon training session and as we started our various batting drills, we had the pleasure of been greeted by a former India captain who made the effort to come and pass his experience and knowledge on ways to play spin. He made the effort in working with all of us on a one-to-one basis in the nets for which we all found that time highly valuable as well as speaking to the entire party at the end in a question and answer type session. Personally, I learnt to move my front foot to the off-side regardless if I'm facing a left-arm spinner or "leggie"as I would not be creating a path for the ball to travel and maybe catch the outside edge, plus I would be in greater control of playing the ball directly under my eyes. If you come to think about it, it makes sense and this is something I will look to work on over during the following months. On a separate note, it must be stressed that many keen locals, who bowled at us non-stop all day long and throughout our stay in Mumbai, superbly supported us and therefore, on behalf of the coaches and players especially, a special thanks must go out to all of them. Thank you!

The coaching team were joined at dinner by Andrew Flintoff who has been working in Mumbai with the England Lions. A shame he didn't join the players table!!

Day 3: Wednesday 27th February

Wednesday morning saw the group back at the Brabourne Stadium for a session consisting of a circuit of various batting drills. However, this session was organised and run by the Global Cricket School coaches, with all 4 ICC Europe coaches providing input at the same time. Us players were again separated into different groups and after a certain amount of time; we rotated and moved on to the next circuit. The first station was using small, thin cricket bats and hitting tiny tennis balls. The purpose of this exercise was to help make us play the ball underneath our eyes and watch the ball all the more closely in order to make better contact with the ball and to subsequently be in a better position to play the ball. This was definitely an enjoyable and meaningful exercise that made most, if not all of us, realise that we tend to take our eyes off the ball a lot when batting.

The second station consisted of having 5 cones acting as fielders in positions from extra cover to point, making a total of 4 gaps. The idea for this was to help make us play the ball extremely late and use our wrists more to penetrate the gaps, a very useful drill that is used a lot in India to help manipulate the field. Personally, I found this drill harder than the rest of the drills because my strengths are playing straight, and so I was required to play a lot squarer. However, I must say I will be using this drill a lot back home in preparation for the season as I feel by having this other option within my game; it could stand me in good stead for the Divison 2 Championships to be played in Guernsey this year.

Finally, the third station helped us work on facing the short-pitched ball. Here we moved behind the sightscreen where there was a tiled, slippery/skiddy surface, using rubber balls instead. Generally, as we headed for some lunch, we thought it was a very enjoyable and useful morning as a lot of good was taken from it. Some of us had never done some of the drills before and so we will be keen to introduce them as part of our training when we go back home. Philip reiterated on several occasions that one of our roles is to feedback drills and information we learn in India back into our countries cricketing local programmes.

The afternoon session was once again organised and run by the ICC coaching staff. A general net session was decided, so it was a great chance to put into practice some of the skills we worked on in the morning as well as to help the bowlers gather some rhythm in preparation for our first game of the tour the following day. Batters got some valuable time in both the seamers' and spinners' nets facing the Academies' bowlers as well as a large number of locals. Running between the wickets was introduced to accustom us to running in the tough, sometimes unbearable heat, as well as removing the portable nets to include fielders so as to work on looking for gaps in the field. We then had a short, but sharp fielding session to round off proceedings for the day before an early night ahead of the first match.

Day 4: Thursday 28th February

Thursday saw a change to the programme as we were now scheduled to play our first game of the tour. The game was held at the Brabourne stadium at the Cricket Club of India against a C.C.I XI. The local side won the toss and chose to have a bat on a wicket that had a tinge of grass on it but looked ideal for batting. We knew that if we made the most of the early morning conditions, we had every chance of restricting the opposition to a below par score of under 250, but we didn't get off to the start we wanted. Our opening bowlers, Scott Redhead and Maurits Jonkman, perhaps due to nerves, bowled the occasional "no-ball"and "wide"as well as dragging the ball short a number of times, allowing the ball to set up nicely for the batters. These deliveries were duly punished and we were on the back foot from the off. A score in excess of 300 was on the cards but the introduction of spinners Gary Kidd and Andy Poynter meant runs started to dry down for the locals and we started to claw our way back into the contest. After the allocated 45 overs, the home side reached 290 all out with Kidd taking 2 wickets for 41 off his 9 overs. Dutchmen Jonkman and Tim Gruijters also picked up 2 wickets apiece.

In reply, we made a steady start. Richie Berrington made a very entertaining and impressive quick-fire 35 before he was caught behind. In his place came skipper Gary Wilson who also looked in good touch as he set about taking the attack to the opposition. But at the other end, the others struggled to some extent to keep up with the run rate required, and this pressure was inevitable as it lead to the loss of 4 quick wickets. At just over the halfway stage of our innings, we were at 120-5 with our hopes firmly on Wilson on playing a captain's knock. But soon after, he fell for 44. Our lower middle order then had nothing to lose and therefore set about on adding a little respectability to our score and pushed us as closely as possible to the target of 290. In all fairness to the boys down the order, they showed great fighting spirit and at the end of the 45 overs, we ended up on 259-9, just 31 runs short. Tim Gruijters was unbeaten on 35 and Gary Kidd ended up on 20 not out.

Reflecting on the game, of course it was a disappointment losing, but it served us as a good learning experience. On the bowling front, we learnt that it was a cardinal sin to drop the ball short on those wickets, as the ball would set up nicely for the batters. It must be said that we lacked variation with slower balls and cutters not been used as much as we could have, so that was something to work on ahead of the second game. Batting wise, we realised that once you were in, to go on and be there at the end was vital as it was very tough starting up on those slow, low wickets. The perfect example was from one of the locals who made a fine unbeaten 120 as he started off slowly but then looked to make up for the slow start once he was in. Therefore, in general, plenty to think about but all was not over as numerous positives were taken too. I thought the batting of our lower middle order was encouraging, as well as our fielding in general, and the bowling of Gary Kidd and Tim Gruijters at the end.

It must also be said that after dinner that evening, coach Gordon Lord got the group together and introduced us all to the Myers-Briggs type indicator. This consisted of us filling in a questionnaire relating to certain choices we would make in order to help us find out more about each other's personalities and how different we all are, and ways in which all types combined help make up a team. It was extremely interesting and results were compared and discussed later on in the week.

Day 5: Friday 29th February

After our first game yesterday, we were back in the nets. For today's session, we changed venue and headed 10 minutes down the road to the ELF Cricket Ground. This ground has some significance as it used to be the ground where a young Sachin Tendulkar used to apply his trade and play his first-class cricket when a teenager, and so a chance to practice at his former ground was a privilege for us all as well as inspiring. We began the day with a short and fun game of football as part of our warm-up, but it was then down to the serious stuff as an intense fielding session led by coach Stuart Barnes (Gloucestershire Assistant Coach) was first on the agenda. Here we did various drills ranging from taking high and flat catches, to ground fielding exercises including practising to knock down the stumps when attempting run outs with a group backing-up the throws. Also, the slip fielders later headed off elsewhere with coaches Philip Hudson and Gordon Lord to work on that aspect of the game. It must be stressed that the fielding session went very well, with the level of performance being very high. The players were keen to make amends for their defeat the previous day and therefore, it was very pleasing to see that positive attitude adopted.

We then moved across to the net area, with the idea being to split the players up into groups of 3, 1 group for each available net. The nets consisted of 1 seamer's net, an off-spin net and a leg-spin net so as to give us all a chance to practise facing each of those types of bowlers. Each player had been allocated a starting time and had 12 minutes in each net before moving on to the other. Again we found the session extremely useful as we all got valuable time to work on adapting methods to play each of the bowling types. After the 3-hour session, we all headed for lunch.

Immediately after lunch we were back at Tendulkar's local ground as the Global Cricket School arranged for ex Indian test bowler, Narendra Hirwani, to speak to us all. Narendra gave us all an insight into the art of leg-spin bowling and he spoke to us about how he used to approach each game and opposing batsmen. He emphasised the importance of backing your own ability, even when under pressure, saying that if you put in the hours beforehand in the nets, your efforts will be rewarded. Furthermore, he explained how he would imagine himself batting against any spinner whilst bowling and think on what he would not like to be facing so as to use it when bowling. We were all amazed by the knowledge of the man and found the time he spoke to us captivating. One has to remember that Narendra is famous for taking 16 wickets on his debut Test match against a West Indian side that had the likes of Viv Richards playing for them, as well as playing first class cricket for 20 years. Therefore, having the chance to learn from such a quality player in his time is something we all appreciated tremendously, and on behalf of the lads; a big thank you must go to him too for giving up his time to come and speak to us. Thanks!

After the talk by Narendra Hirwani, the players were given the option of either having the afternoon off to rest up, or if we wanted, there was also the option of working on anything that needed working on in the nets. The majority of the lads headed back to the hotel pool to cool down after been out in the soaring heat all morning. The coaching staff was okay with that because it was also a good way of relaxing and letting all you had learnt throughout the week soak in.

After a quiet afternoon, we were all invited to the head of the GCS's house, Sachin Bajaj, for dinner. On behalf of team ICC Europe, we must thank you and your family for making us all welcome to your home and for the hospitality we received. Thank You Sachin and family!

Day 6: Saturday 1st March

Saturday is a day that will live long in the memories of all those involved in this year's academy. What was so special about today was that we got the chance to play at one of the leading Test grounds in the world, the Wankhede Stadium. Another significant factor was that today was the last ever game to be played at the ground before it was knocked down for refurbishment and re-building. The opponents for today's game was a Global Cricket School XI, of which 3 of the Academy lads got the chance to have a run out for the local side, myself been one of them.

The European Academy XI won the toss and opted to bat first. Runs were hard to come by as the GCS XI opening bowlers bowled tightly early on, picking up a couple of early wickets in the process. As well as that, the GCS side had Graeme White in their side. For all those of you who haven't heard about Whitey, he is contracted to Northamptonshire CCC and was out in Mumbai on his own accord, working on his batting and spin bowling in preparation for the forthcoming season. And so his tight, left-arm off-spin resulted in not many runs been scored off him during his spell. However, when he finished bowling his allotted 8 overs, and with a further 10 overs to bat, it sparked a fight-back by the Academy boys. Andy Poynter and Andy Hislop featured in a partnership worth over 100 runs and they managed to move the score along to a defendable 206-4, with Poynter and Hislop finishing on 69* and 50 respectively.

And so the Academy lads took to the field knowing that they had the runs on the board, and all it needed was some tight bowling and fielding throughout the innings to bring about victory. They made a good start as they picked up a couple of wickets, one being mine, with the score on just 25. There followed a passage of play where the batting side were ticking along at just over 3 an over with not many wickets falling. In the process, Dutchman Bob Entrop, who was also playing for the GCS XI, was going along nicely batting with White. These two edged the score all the more closely to the required total, with Entrop duly reaching 50 in the process. But soon after, a lapse of concentration led to Entrop being run out when on 58 and this sparked a collapse as the Academy bowlers grew in confidence. But White was still at the crease and if the GCS XI were going to come out on top, he would be the catalyst. However, the European boys were holding their nerve, bowling full and straight, taking wickets at vital times. It was the last over, 16 to win with just 1 wicket in hand. All the GCS batsmen could get were singles and so in the end, the Academy boys won their first game of the tour by 11 runs. At the end, Richie Berrington finished with figures of 3-33 and Maurits Jonkman with 2-20. All in all, it was a wonderful and entertaining last game of cricket at the Wankhede Stadium, and one that served as a valuable learning curve for us all, and to top it off with a win for Team Europe made it all the more satisfying. There were still a number of issues that were addressed to us by coach Adrian Birrell at the post-match meeting, but on the whole, the coaching staff was pleased with the end result as well as the performances put in by some.

Day 7: Sunday 2nd March

Today we were all given a much-needed day off to take our minds away from cricket and to give us all a chance to see as much as we could of this famous city. We began our day trip at the Gateway of India, one of Mumbai's most famous landmarks. From there, we all hopped on to a small trawler-type boat and travelled across part of the Arabian Sea to an island off the west coast of Mumbai. From there, we headed straight to Elephanta Caves. I'm sure you are all thinking, like we were, of seeing elephants. But they were nowhere to be seen. In fact, Elephanta Caves is famous for the beautiful carved sculptures left behind by a group of Portuguese people who lived on the island many years ago, and their work is carried on by their families as the generations go on. They were truly a work of art. The afternoon had flown by before we realised it was time to catch our boat back to the Gateway of India, and so we set back to the mainland a little tired but impressed with what we had just seen. Most of the guys then headed to the hotel pool in the late afternoon for a stretching session in order to keep the body loose before dinner in preparation for our last 2 days of cricket.

Day 8: Monday 3rd March

And so we reached the final chapter of this year's academy, the much-awaited 2-day game against a mixture of GCS players as well as a number of our Academy lads and Mumbai State players. It was decided that 90 overs were to be bowled on both days, but on a 1 inning-per side basis. Academy skipper Gary Wilson won the toss and opted to bat first on a track that would have enough in it for the bowlers early on but would become a batting paradise later on in the day. Irish lad Fintan McAllister and I, were given the nod to open the batting, with the idea of 1 of us batting through whilst the rest of the guys play around us. Unfortunately, we got off to a poor start, with McAllister edging a perfect away-swinger straight into the wicket keepers' gloves for 0. This brought Bob Entrop to the crease but he also fell early on, trapped leg before for 1 by fellow Dutchman Timothy Gruijters. But then, in Andy Hislop, I found a partner who enabled us to push the score along gradually and get us out of the little hole we were in. We both looked to capitalize on any loose deliveries as the shine on the hard Kookaburra ball began to fade away. However, with the score on 47, Hislop was out-foxed by a slower ball and only managed to guide the ball into the hands of short extra-cover. He went for 19. This brought skipper Wilson to the crease earlier than he anticipated after winning the toss on a good track. At the same time, I was feeling in good touch despite all that was happening around me and started to find the boundary often on the quick outfield. Wilson didn't take long to hit his first few boundaries as he went about punishing the loose half-trackers, but a sudden lapse of concentration lead to his downfall as he chased a wide, out-swinging half-volley, only to find it end up in Dougie Lockhart's gloves behind the stumps. With the score now on 68-4, Richie Berrington joined me at the crease. Our aim was to survive up to lunch, however we had to continue to keep the scoreboard ticking. Berrington quickly got into his stride, hitting a number of good-looking boundaries whilst I was happy to look to get the single and odd 2. And so at lunch, we were on 90-4.

It was a different story after lunch. Runs became easier to get and wickets were hard to come by. Even the spinners weren't getting as much purchase from the wicket as they would have expected with the ball hardly turning for them. By now, I had reached 50 and was going well with Berrington scoring freely too. Our partnership was worth 73 before Berrington was caught at mid-on whilst looking to go over the in field for a good-looking 42. The next man in was Irishman Andy Poynter, but unfortunately, when on 4, the ball managed to sneak through the tiniest of gaps between bat and pad to hit leg-stump. With the score now on 151-6, a lot of responsibility was placed on my shoulders to carry on and make sure I was the batsman to go on and be there near the end of our innings. My job was made a lot easier with the arrival of Maurits Jonkman to the crease. He started his innings well, rotating the strike as well as punishing the loose ball. We passed the 200-run mark as I moved into the 80's. I then managed to hit a few boundaries in quick succession to move my score to 95 with an over to go before tea. Luckily, I was on strike, and fortunately got one through gully to move to 99. The opposing captain was aware of this and therefore took some time to speak to his bowler; it was all mind-games of course. I was understandably anxious on reaching my ton and so I chased at one that luckily, missed my outside edge. The next ball was short-pitched and I remember pulling it all the way to fine-leg for that illusive single. I was chuffed to bits on reaching this landmark as I was glad to see that all my hard work in the lead up to the Academy and out there had paid off, as well as help our side reach a more respectable score of 225-6 at tea.

After the break, Jonkman and I returned to the crease with our intentions of gradually looking to increase the run rate. Jonkman was going along his merry way, caressing the ball through the covers on a regular basis, whilst at the other end, I hit a few streaky boundaries over the top of the slips and in between the cover fielders. However, with the score on 261, I was trapped L.B.W. for 132. I remember walking off the pitch tired, but happy on the way I played. What was more pleasing on a personal note was that over the course of the week, coach Adrian Birrell kept on reminding us not to settle for okay and to be hungry to score many runs, and so I took that advice onboard and worked on it during my innings. But there was still a game going on, and a few overs later, Jonkman duly reached his 50. Unfortunately, our tail was unable to provide Jonkman with much support as our innings ended on exactly 300 in the 84th over. Jonkman ended unbeaten on 72 off just 66 balls; a fine and crucial knock indeed. However, that was not the end of the day's play as we had to take to the field for 4 overs. In that space of time, 14 runs were scored without the loss of any wickets, meaning honours were even after day 1.

Day 9: Tuesday 4th March

The aim of Day 2 for us was to make the new ball count and take early wickets to try and bring about a positive result. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our bowlers, we found it hard to take wickets at regular intervals on a very, very flat track. But credit to our lads, who worked tirelessly all day, they kept on steaming in looking for those breakthroughs. At one stage though, we had our opponents on 165-5, thanks to wickets from Berrington and mainly Varsulkar. However, their middle order then provided some very good resistance with scores of 52, 96 and 57, thus enabling them to pass our total and continue batting and survive for the draw. At the end of the day, their score was 372-8 off 78 overs. Our most successful bowler was Varsulkar who picked up 3 wickets, but there were also successes for Berrington, Jonkman, Queripel and part-timer McAllister.

Summary of the tour:

After 9 terrific days of non-stop cricket, the Academy sadly came to an end and we all headed back to our respective countries. For all involved, it was an experience where there aren't enough words to describe it, it was that good. I think I can say that both the players and coaches learnt a lot on the trip, not just about their own games and coaching, but about themselves as a person too. Having the chance to come out to India has provided us all with a unique opportunity to develop our cricket further, and we are all extremely grateful for that. Of course, a lot of planning and preparation has gone in to making the Academy such a success, and on behalf of the players, we would like to thank a lot of people. Firstly, to the ICC and GCS coaching staff for all their help throughout the trip. Another special mention needs to go to all the locals who provided us all with tremendous support, running in to bowl non-stop all day nearly everyday, as well as attending to most of our needs such as constantly providing us with water. Also, to the C.C.I. for their hospitality. I am sure that I have possibly missed out on a number of people because there were a lot of people who made our trip so successful, but you all know who you are. But finally, our biggest thanks need to go to Philip Hudson and Sachin Bajaj, who have been for the best part of a year in regular contact with each other planning, preparing and putting together the Academy. Well done and thank you for making this year's academy such a success!

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