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Parsons preaches virtues of Lions tour

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David Parsons

ECB performance director David Parsons says England Lions are "champing at the bit now to play some competitive cricket"

England Lions’ two-month tour of the West Indies will not only benefit the players involved but also the English county game in general, according to ECB performance director David Parsons.

The Lions are in the Caribbean to compete in the West Indies Cricket Board’s regional tournament, in which they will play seven four-day first-class matches.

Tomorrow they begin a pair of two-day warm-up games against a combined St Kitts/Nevis XI, first at Conaree and then at Molineaux, in St Kitts.

The majority of the tourists took part in the England Performance Programme trip to Australia in November and December, which started by linking up with the Ashes squad in Brisbane before moving on to Perth.

Having spent Christmas and New Year at home, the Lions - barring Steven Finn and Chris Woakes, who are involved in the Commonwealth Bank Series Down Under - arrived in the West Indies at the weekend.

They do not return home until the end of March, barely a week before the start of the domestic season, but Parsons believes the time away is overwhelmingly positive for the individuals and their counties.

“We’ve had most of these players together since the start of November at the training camp in Australia before Christmas in Brisbane and Perth, which was hopefully hugely beneficial for them,” he told ecb.co.uk. “They’re champing at the bit now to play some competitive cricket.

“We hope they’ll go back to their counties with improved games, but also some strong messages that will enhance not only themselves but also their colleagues back at their counties and that all of county cricket will continue to improve also.”

England’s second string played in the same competition 10 years ago, under the guise of England A.

With international tours having grown in length since then, such as England’s current three-and-a-half-month trip to Australia, Parsons is adamant that potential international stars must become accustomed to spending long periods away from home.

“We did this tour before in 2000-01,” he said. “It’s still the first time in several years that we’ve toured for such a long time.

Adam Lyth, Jonathan Bairstow & Matt Prior

The England Performance Programme trip to Australia in 2010 allowed emerging players to rub shoulders with Test stars like Matt Prior, right

“We hope that some of these players will go on international tours and have long and successful careers with England.

“Those tours are pretty long nowadays and we think that being away from home in a tour environment, being in an England environment, is good preparation for them, so when they do make that step up they’re well prepared for it.

“That is one of our underpinning principles, that we’re trying to prepare players at world-class levels for England and being away from home for long periods of time. Having to perform week in week out in an alien environment is one of the key challenges of international cricket.”

The Lions’ first competitive game of the tour - versus the Leeward Islands at Warner Park in St Kitts - begins on February 4.

Under the captaincy of James Hildreth, Parsons is confident they will give a strong account of themselves over the seven matches.

“We’ll certainly go all out to win every game that they play and to play a strong brand of England cricket and have a really good look at this group of players and see how many of them, or which of them, are ready to make that next step up into the senior England team,” he added.

“The standard of domestic cricket in the West Indies is pretty strong at the moment and I’m sure they’re going to come up against some decent opposition in their own back yard.

“I’m sure it’s going to be challenging cricket and we hope it’s going to be challenging cricket because we want to see which of those players is going to step up to the next level.”