Surrey are proud to have four representatives in the Young Lions squad who will travel to Dubai in December, as recognition for their domination of national Under-17s cricket in each of the last two summers.
Amar Virdi and Ollie Pope, who both made their debuts for England Under-19s in the home series against Sri Lanka, will be joined by Euan Woods and Will Jacks, key figures in the Surrey team who completed an Under-17 double in both three-day and one-day cricket in 2016 – and who have already translated that form to a higher level, in the national Super-4 Competition, and in Woods’s case with a man of the match performance for Berkshire in the Minor Counties Championship final against Lincolnshire.
“Our aim is to produce as many homegrown players as we can, and it’s good to have recognition from England at various levels this winter,” says Gareth Townsend, the long-serving Academy Director at the Kia Oval.
“I think 11 players will be going away if you include the senior team and the Lions as well as the four lads with the Young Lions. In terms of Under-17s it’s been outstanding – we won the one-day competition in 2015, and this year we retained it and also won the three-day Championship, beating Lancashire in the final. It’s great to see the players come out of our age group, and then get into England recognition.”
For Pope, a wicketkeeper-batsman from Guildford who was first spotted by Surrey’s scouts when he was at primary school, England Under-19s recognition was quickly followed by a high-profile first-team debut – in the Royal London One-Day Cup semi final victory against Yorkshire at Headingley.
Surrey’s first-team coach Michael Di Venuto had been impressed by his innings of 88 from 78 balls in the last match of England’s Royal London One-Day Series against Sri Lanka in Canterbury – which was televised live by Sky Sports.
"I’m really looking forward to this winter with the Young Lions – hopefully with a tour of India to come in the New Year, if I’m selected."
“I was on the golf course when I got a call telling me they wanted to register me for the semi final,” explained Pope, who is currently recovering from a broken finger and confident he will be ready to fly with the Young Lions to Dubai.
“Michael Di Venuto and Alec Stewart had watched the game at Canterbury, and got me into the nets doing some white-ball stuff during the Championship game against Lancashire. I really enjoyed the experience of the semi final, playing in front of the Yorkshire crowd at Headingley, and then I was in the dressing-room for the final against Warwickshire at Lord’s, although with Zafar Ansari fit and Jason Roy back from England I was always unlikely to make the XI.
“I’m really looking forward to this winter with the Young Lions – hopefully with a tour of India to come in the New Year, if I’m selected. I worked a lot with the England Development Programme last winter, which was really helpful, but only at Loughborough. Going away, first to Dubai and then to play India Under-19s, would be a different experience.”
Virdi, an offspinner who plays his club cricket for Sunbury, also made a big impact with England Under-19s this summer, taking five for 77 on his debut in Cambridge – and working with Monty Panesar, a boyhood hero, during the second four-day match against Sri Lanka in Northampton. He subsequently signed a professional contract with Surrey, was invited to bowl at the senior England team in the nets, and went very close to a senior debut.
Woods and Jacks are at an earlier stage of their development, and are still at school studying for their A-levels – but that means that unlike Pope and Virdi, they will be eligible for the next ICC Under-19 World Cup, which will be staged in New Zealand in early 2018.
Jacks, a right-handed batsman from Weybridge, instantly nominates Kevin Pietersen as his cricketing hero. “I loved to watch him bat and try to play in the same sort of way,” he said. “Maybe I haven’t quite got his flair but I’m quite aggressive, I don’t like to get bogged down, and I like to give it a go.”
Woods impressed with his temperament in that Minor Counties Championship final at Wormsley in September, coming in with Berkshire on 56 for five, and steering them to what turned out to be a matchwinning total of 332 with an unbeaten 142 from 176 balls, including 19 fours. He added 41 in the second innings, and even took a wicket with his off-spin.
“It was a great season for us,” said Woods, a relatively recent recruit to the Surrey structure having developed his love of and aptitude for cricket at the Wargrave club in Berkshire, where his father is the groundsman. “Playing Minor Counties was a good learning environment to improve my game.
“To be able to combine that with winning the Under-17s trophies with Surrey made it a busy summer, but at my age you just enjoy it. Going up to Loughborough and playing with the Young Lions is going to be a new experience, but I’m really excited – I’m looking forward to being around the national set-up, and trying to improve.”
For Townsend, as well as satisfaction that Surrey’s young talent is gaining recognition, there is the major bonus of the cricketing experiences this quartet of teenagers will receive this winter.
“That’s part of the added value that the ECB can offer with their elite programmes,” he added. “For Will, Euan, Amar and Ollie, it will be a great experience to go out to Dubai and then hopefully to India after Christmas. We spend a lot of time indoors which is great, and then we’ve been lucky enough to get the Academy lads abroad in the spring, whether to Cape Town or last year Sri Lanka. But for most of the winter there’s a limiting factor – the weather. So for them to go out, whether to the UAE or India, and practise their skills properly in different conditions is priceless.”
Young Lions squad: (for training camps in Loughborough and Dubai in November and December)
Max Holden (Middlesex), Harry Brook (Yorkshire), George Bartlett (Somerset), Josh Dell (Worcestershire), Tom Banton (Somerset), Ben Green (Somerset), Ollie Pope (Surrey), Delray Rawlins (Sussex), Amar Virdi (Surrey), Josh Coughlin (Durham), Will Jacks (Surrey), Euan Woods (Surrey), Liam Banks (Warwickshire), Aaron Beard (Essex), George Panayi (Warwickshire), Jack Blatherwick (Nottinghamshire), George Scrimshaw (Worcestershire).