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New drills for a new season

Posted in England v New Zealand - summer 2008

The week leading up to the first npower Test of the summer is always a busy time with the England team's preparations taking on new impetus in readiness for that opening session at Lord's.

This week England's practice sessions have been bolstered by the addition of several new fielding drills introduced by the ECB's national lead in fielding, Richard Halsall. Richard - a former Cambridge University all-rounder who worked with England head coach Peter Moores during his time as Sussex coach - is aiming to develop England's fielding by employing a number of unique practice methods.

One eye-catching technique included a machine that spits balls out at various angles at speeds of up to 70 miles an hour. The machine - made by 'Bola' and resembling the tops of two bowling machines combined with two ripple boards - is also used by hockey goal keepers and increases the control, accuracy and speed of a cricket ball's trajectory resulting in controlled testing and a genuine challenge for some of the world's best fielders. It also adds a fun element to what is otherwise an intensive training session.

"This practice technique provides an objective way of testing and measuring the players' progress in terms of fielding specifics," said Halsall on the eve of England's first Test with New Zealand.

"Using equipment like this enables us to take the variables out of the training and operate in a controlled environment. For example, if a player makes 40 out of 50 catches this week we can directly compare the results under virtually the same conditions the following week."

The entire England Test squad was divided into two teams and put through their paces by Halsall with the assistance of Peter Moores and batting coach Andy Flower. Unsurprisingly players from both teams contested the drills as if their lives depended on the outcome and made the most of the chance to enjoy themselves competitively.

The start of the week also saw the Vodafone Player of the Year Awards held in the Long Room of the Lord's pavilion. The annual awards dinner recognises those outstanding performances by England's men's and women's teams over the past year. Aside from crowning Ryan Sidebottom and Claire Taylor as the respective Players of the Year, the night provided the ideal chance to commemorate two of England's finest ever players in Marcus Trescothick and Ashley Giles.

'Tres' and 'Gilo' were presented with special recognition awards for outstanding service to the game having both served England unwaveringly over the past years 10 years - Trescothick (76 Tests, 123 ODIs) debuted for the national side in 2000 while Giles (54 Tests, 62 ODIs) began his England career in 1997.

Both were popular recipients of the awards and used the opportunity to catch up with their former team-mates and pass on some words of encouragement before the first Test at Lord's.

If ticket sales for the first npower Test Series of the summer are anything to go by, the public's appetite for international cricket has certainly not diminished over the winter months.

Sales are extremely strong for all three matches against the Kiwis with Lord's, Old Trafford and Trent Bridge all reporting good pre-sale numbers. Attendances are expected to be particularly strong for the 3rd npower Test at Trent Bridge with the ground boasting a new stand as part of an £8.2 million development - the world's third oldest Test ground has increased its capacity from 15,358 to over 17,000.

The new stand will be officially opened at the start of the final Test match against New Zealand (June 5-9) where England's current Player of the Year Ryan Sidebottom is expected to receive a rousing reception from his home crowd.

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