EPP experience proves an education
Posted in England Performance Programme
It is often said that you learn something new every day.
That was certainly the case for me when, along with a number of other journalists, I was invited to join up with the England Performance Programme squads at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough.
Having attended a similar day 12 months ago, I was fairly sure I knew what to expect. In between watching the players train in the impressive indoor facility, there would be the opportunity to grab a few one-on-one interviews and that would pretty much be that.
Or so I thought. On this occasion, the ECB decided to make things a little more interesting.
In addition to the usual aspects of the day, the assembled media were given an opportunity to chat informally with the players, firstly in a half-hour discussion session and then over lunch at the University of Loughborough’s Nutrition Lounge.
So, what exactly did I learn on my day with the EPP?
1) England’s newest leg-spinner, Scott Borthwick, can put a hell of a lot of fizz on a cricket ball as he spins it from one hand to another. For a moment I thought the noise was a plane coming in to land at East Midlands Airport.
2) Boyd Rankin is one seriously huge gentleman.
3) Never, ever turn your back on the nets. Unfortunately one of the assembled journalists - who shall remain nameless - was reminded of this golden rule in a painful manner when he was struck on the back by a powerful straight drive (Jason Roy was the chief suspect, although I confess my eyes aren’t what they used to be). Moments earlier, Jonny Bairstow had showed neat footwork to leap out of the way - in the middle of an interview with Sky Sports News - after another ball had been thumped in our general direction.
4) Participating in Movember (again!) is something I hugely regret. Thankfully the players were polite enough to stifle their laughter, at least while I was in earshot.
5) There really is no need to wear anything more than the thinnest t-shirt when the staff at the NCPC turn up the heat to replicate conditions on the sub-continent. “I can’t believe you’re all wearing jumpers and jackets,” exclaimed Jonny Bairstow midway through his interview with a huddle of sweating journalists.
On a more serious note, however, I learned that England’s latest crop of youngsters can have no excuses if they fail to fulfil their potential at the highest level.
Make no mistake, the EPP has a hugely significant role to play in the development of this country’s future stars and the players involved with the programme can be grateful for the situation they find themselves in.
Not only are they able to hone their skills in a specialist environment containing all manner of training aids, including the ProBatter and Merlyn bowling machines, their progress is monitored stringently and expert advice is on hand from a range of sources, including former England internationals Graham Thorpe and Peter Such, now the respective lead batting and spin bowling coaches for the ECB.
Michael Vaughan, another ex-England player - and captain - also visited Loughborough yesterday to deliver a group chat and went on to spend time in the nets with some of the youngsters, further enhancing their knowledge.
In addition, the forthcoming EPP camps in India and South Africa will be attended by several members of England’s Test squad, including captain Andrew Strauss.
Bairstow explained: “They are trying to make it so easy to go up from stage to stage.
“I’ve said it before, it felt very comfortable going from the Lions to being called up the day after and making my debut in Cardiff. It’s one big family. You are welcomed in straight away and I think that’s a massive reason why team England has been so successful.”
Bairstow, of course, is one of numerous players to have recently progressed from the EPP into the senior side and enjoyed immediate success in his maiden international appearance two months ago.
And with England performance director David Parsons outlining an ambition to produce an over-supply of players, do not be surprised to see several more youngsters teaching opposition teams a lesson in the coming years.