Window of opportunity for Davies
Steven Davies is unperturbed by the rise of wicketkeeping rival Craig Kieswetter, and believes the England Performance Programme's shadowing of the full England side in South Africa can only enhance his Test prospects.
Davies, 23, who moved from Worcestershire to Surrey for next season, has long been touted as the most talented young English wicketkeeper-batsman on the county circuit.
And with his selection in the Test squad to face the world’s top-ranked team next month, Davies appears to be next in line should bad fortune befall Matt Prior this winter.
But before that potential examination, Davies will join Kieswetter and 45 other English players for an intensive training camp at Cricket South Africa’s High Performance Centre in Pretoria, sandwiched by a four-day tour match with Highveld Lions.
As Davies told ecb.co.uk before his departure to South Africa, he is grateful for the acclimatisation that the EPP will offer.
“I have to be ready,” Davies said. “It would be unbelievable to play a Test match. There is a chance I’ll be called upon - it only takes a small injury or an illness.
"In international cricket there’s no let-up. It’s definitely the place to be. But it is tough.
“And in that way the Performance Programme is a big help. One of the main reasons the Test players are going over first is to adapt to conditions. We have a couple of training days and then we’re straight into a game.
“Andy Flower wants us to be getting time out in the middle before we meet up with the Test side. If we rocked up a few days before a Test, and we’re not fully acclimatised at altitude, then it would be hard work.”
Davies has a single cap in both one-day international and Twenty20 cricket to his name. The closest he has come to Tests was earlier this year, when he was summoned to join the squad for the fourth match against West Indies in Bridgetown, after Matt Prior returned home for the birth of his child.
Though Tim Ambrose was given the nod at the Kensington Oval, it was Davies, who scored runs aplenty in an otherwise turbulent final season with Worcestershire, who was named as the reserve keeper to Prior this winter.
“I was surprised but delighted, to be honest. I thought if I had a chance in any of the squads it would be the one-day side.
"But the selectors opted to take one keeper there, and two in the Test squad.
“I would love to play in the one-day series. But Matt Prior is in possession of that spot at the moment. I’m sure if there had been two keepers selected I’d have been in with a shout.”
Davies chooses his words wisely, because he may soon have a new challenger in Kieswetter, two years his junior, and another keeper who enjoys throwing the bat in one-day cricket. Born in Johannesburg, he qualifies for England on residential grounds in February.
The former South Africa Under-19 player will be eligible by the time England tour Bangladesh early next year - an important juncture, given that ECB managing director of cricket Hugh Morris has already hinted that the series in the sub-continent could be used as an opportunity to rest fatigued England players.
Kieswetter scored five centuries for Somerset this season, though the player himself would admit that his glovework is far from the finished article.
He has been added to the ‘B-list’ section of the EPP - players with experience of first-class cricket who are expected to need one to three years of development before graduating into the England team.
“I don’t think it undermines me,” said Davies. “Craig had a very good season for Somerset and probably deserves his spot in the Performance Programme.
“It’s important for me not to worry about those things too much. I know that if I’m playing well, continue to score runs and take catches then I’m in with a shout for England.”
In the short-term, Davies’ cause is aided by the week he spent in South Africa during the ICC Champions Trophy campaign, when he stood in for an ill Prior during the semi-final with Australia.
He has little other experience of playing in the country, but nonetheless hopes the traditionally hard, bouncy pitches should suit his predominantly back-foot game.
“I’m expecting the ball to go through, and I prefer greater bounce and carry in my batting. I’ve played at Worcester my entire career so far and I’ve scored the majority of my runs away from New Road, which is a slow, low wicket.
“The wickets varied in the Champions Trophy, but they should suit me with bat and gloves.
“When I bat up the order in limited-overs cricket I like to go up and over the in-field and use the pace of the ball. So hopefully it will be beneficial.”
The England Performance Programme arrives in Pretoria on November 16. Davies, Ian Bell, Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett, the Test specialists not selected in the limited-overs sides, join the other 42 players on November 23.