Neil Bradshaw, Team Manager of the England Physical Disability squad, blogs on another busy year for disability cricket.
So, the summer is over and winter has got a firm grip of us. It has been far from dull with an Ashes victory to enjoy and the England Deaf romping to a series win in South Africa particular highlights.
It always feel appropriate to write at this time of year - a period of reflection on the season past and planning for the winter ahead, especially with a potential trip to Dubai to look forward to in March when we might be taking on Pakistan again.
As I sit here writing, it dawns on me what a journey the summer has been. It began poorly with defeat to a Berkshire Academy XI and moved on to our annual fixture with the Army XI at Bournville.
With the great and good of English cricket present, we produced what is possibly our worst ever performance. Rarely have I sat in a dressing room after a game and felt so drained. To experience that in such a high profile game was a testing experience, one that none of us are keen to repeat.
It was a significant moment in the development of the squad as we could have drifted into a downward spiral or rolled up our sleeves and come back stronger.
The high performance squad weekend at Malvern College gave us a chance to re-establish our values and spend time together as a unit. We emerged from the weekend with rebuilt confidence levels and looking forward to the rest of the summer.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to Sefton CC on their president's day where we took on their club side. A much improved performance ended in defeat but the signs were there that progress was being made.
A narrow defeat to a strong England Deaf side again showed we were on the right track and then we travelled to Arundel, a venue steeped in cricketing history, to play the Duke of Norfolk XI.
This fixture was the first time that the Duke had been represented by a team of disabled cricketers with members of the PD squad being joined by players from the BACD County Championship, as well as the Deaf and MLD squads.
To be in that arena, a magnificent amphitheatre, with all of its history was truly a special day for all involved. The win that came from it was well deserved but the significance of the fixture in terms of disability cricket cannot be over-emphasised.
Players from both sides served up a great spectacle with Gordon Laidlaw and PD skipper Jimmy Williams stealing the show with catches that were spectacular in any level of cricket.
The players truly opened people's eyes that day and were seen as cricketers with a disability rather than disabled cricketers, a subtle but significant change of mindset.
Convincing victories against the Learning Disabilities squad and England Women’s Academy brought the playing season to an end on a high with Jordan Williams hitting consecutive half-centuries and Callum Flynn, Alex Hammond and Laidlaw getting amongst the runs to help boost confidence.
We moved into October and found ourselves in a field in the Brecon Beacons. Climbing the highest peak in southern Britain, eating Army issue ration packs, sleeping in tents, reading maps and making stretchers out of rope is as far away from a cricket pitch as you can imagine but the value of the weekend is difficult to put into words.
Seeing a group of individuals arrive and a team with real structure, trust and togetherness leave was an incredible experience. For the full story of a weekend in the hills, take a look at Ian Martin's latest blog, an inspirational read.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention a change in the guard. Assistant coach Will Kitchen sadly left the squad to embark on an exciting new life in Dubai.
Will brought so much to the squad as a whole, not just as a coach but as a man. His passion for cricket and his outstanding values are now embedded in the DNA of the squad which is a fantastic legacy to leave behind.
We also lost our physio, Fran Clarkson, who had stepped into the breach at such short notice before we flew to Dubai in 2012. Fran quickly built a rapport with the squad and the England Blind squad are very lucky to have her on board.
On a positive note, ECB has recruited Qas Ali as our new assistant coach and also Sian Morgan as physio. Sian joined us early in the season and is settling into her role as 'ice queen' really well.
Qas will join us in December for his first camp with the squad. He has an impressive CV and I am sure he will fit right in and add value immediately. We welcome them both.
In summary, I feel it is sometimes easy to take for granted the opportunities that come our way. In a year that saw us make history at Arundel, climb to the summit of mountains, navigate our way through some difficult moments, say goodbye to friends and embrace the changes that are ongoing, it reminds me to savour every moment, good and bad, as one day it will be us that will step away.
We are simply custodians, we owe it to every person ever involved in disability cricket to give it our all.
With one eye on a possible trip to Dubai, we move forward knowing we control our own destiny and we must make the most of the opportunity bestowed upon us.
Winter well and thanks for reading.