Cranking up the heat in South Africa
Posted in England U19s
Our journey to South Africa started with a stop at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre to undergo fitness testing to see if we were eligible for selection for England Under-19s’ tour of Bangladesh in the new year.
We were required to pass minimum standards in a number of areas including cardio, speed and strength. Many of the boys managed to pass in all areas. The lads that didn't quite succeed have one more shot to reach the minimum targets on the last day in South Africa. Otherwise they will be unavailable for selection in Bangladesh.
Once we completed our testing we jumped on a coach and headed to Heathrow for an 11-hour flight to Johannesburg.
When we got off the plane we were struck by the burning heat and it was only 8.30am. The lads immediately turned to each other and were loving the fact that we were going to get a serious tan. However, five days in and the 35-degree sun has made us all look like sun dried tomatoes – which isn't a good look!
We then took a two-hour bus journey to our base in Potchefstroom. On arrival everyone was amazed by the standard of facilities. We were staying in what you could only describe as luxury apartments and, as it’s a high performance training centre, there are hundreds of other world-class athletes sharing the facilities covering a range of sports, from rugby to power walking.
On the first couple of training days we went in the nets and had to complete batting challenges that had a consequence for failure. The guys that didn't complete the different challenges would have to do extra fitness or fielding practice.
Then we were out on the square for our first middle practice, which was a long but productive day. After six hours in the field we were all more than happy to have a dip in the pool before heading out to a local steak house where those who had already met minimum skin-fold standards were allowed to tuck in to anything they wanted.
We then had a couple of days with the EPP fast bowlers, including Stuart Meaker and the exciting young talent of Tymal Mills. The batsmen held their own against some hostile bowling spells and found the boundaries comfortable to come by, even dominating at times.
The following day we played a 50-over practice match with the EPP bowlers. In the first innings Jack Leaning and Shozair Ali both scored half-centuries. Mills the pick of the bowlers, taking three wickets.
In the second innings Meaker got his side off to a great start, pegging us back to 10 for three chasing 286. A score of 120 from me and 47 off 28 balls from Daniel Bell-Drummond got us within six runs of victory but it wasn't quite enough.
The night that followed was by far the best I've had in the Under-19s. We all participated in a dance off – 'Britain's Got Talent' style. There were some unbelievable shapes from Paul Best and Sam Kelsall.
However, Reece Topley's imaginative freestyle moves won the competition for him which he followed with a hilarious winner’s speech which had the boys and coaches in stitches! It was a great night to keep spirits lifted after a very tough opening week of training.
On Tuesday had an unforgettable day training with Stuart Broad, Graham Onions and Chris Tremlett. Although it was their first bowling day and they were easing into it, we all took a lot from the day and it has boosted our confidence in what we can do.
Yesterday we ran a community project event for under-privileged children from the townships of Potchefstroom who have been affected by substance abuse – which I’ll tell you about next time!