England finished runners-up to an impressive Indian side at this summer’s Physical Disability World Series in Worcester and many of those involved believe this is the start of something special for the sport.
The young squad, including several teenagers, are all in full-time employment or education and came together to perform incredible feats on the cricket pitch for 10 days in August.
Captain Iain Nairn, vice-captain Liam Thomas and star all-rounder Callum Flynn have been part of the team for several years now, seeing it transition from a somewhat disjointed unit to the well-drilled group of elite cricketers you see today under the stewardship of head coach Ian Salisbury.
The rise has not only seen England become one of the best sides in the world, but it has also importantly attracted more cricketers with a disability to come forward to try out for the side.
Among the new young talents is free-scoring Hampshire opener Angus Brown, who turned 17 the week before the World Series. We spoke with Brown, Nairn, Thomas and Flynn after the tournament to get their thoughts on the rollercoaster two weeks.
Sum up your feelings from the World Series
LT: It has been a great advert for disability cricket and the final summed it all up – we’d played some great cricket throughout the tournament but ultimately India were the better team.
AB: It has been surreal to be honest. I turned up to the tournament after doing all the winter training and had no idea what to expect. I was very nervous every time I went out to bat, but you remind yourself that everyone is behind you.
CF: It was disappointing to lose in the final, but I’ve shared the field with 14 good friends over the last two weeks. We’ve played good cricket but also made memories for a lifetime. There aren’t many people who get the chance to play for their country at the highest level, so we’re living our dreams.
IN: It was hugely disappointing going back to work on Monday morning; putting my suit on instead of my trainers and not having a net at lunchtime. It’s back to reality with a bump.
Playing cricket for England is always a privilege and always a pleasure, no matter the outcome. We’ve been very lucky that we’ve formed bonds with each other that I’ve never had in any other cricket team that I’ve played in. The closeness and the unity that we’ve had will stick with us for a lifetime.
What does being involved in disability cricket, and England disability cricket, mean to you?
LT: It means a lot. At first, I struggled to accept I was disabled – going to Yorkshire Disability Cricket was a huge step because I didn’t consider myself as having a disability. Once I got into the setup, saw what it does and the opportunities it opens for you, it’s a massive honour to be involved. I’m just glad the ECB are leading the way for that.
AB: Every kid's dream is to play for their country, no matter what sport. I’ve been able to do that in this tournament and hopefully I can do that in years to come.
IN: This team is the most unique environment. You look round the team and see cancer survivors, people with limb loss, with cerebral palsy, with club feet. You know that throughout their lives, everyone has had a challenge to overcome. You know that when you’re under the pump from the opposition you know that you’ll stand up for yourself and for your teammates.
CF: Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of playing for England. The chance to take it professional was taken away from me at a young age, but to now play for my country is still my dream. Every now and again I think that I’ll only realise how much it means when I retire because I’m just living the dream and enjoying it.
What’s this team like now compared to when you first started?
CF: I started [with the England PD team] when I was 16 and we’d turn up to grounds where the wicket had been uncovered and unprepared but now we’ve just played at New Road in Worcester. Thanks to the funding the ECB has put into the disability section, it has made it outstanding in terms of professionalism. We all try to act like elite athletes, even though we’ve got day jobs and families. The comparison to 10 years ago is amazing.
IN: The quality of the cricket has jumped on massively. When I first started playing [PD] T20 you were talking about the best score being 120, and it was fairly average cricket to be frank. The quality being played now and the fielding we’re seeing has been quite special.
LT: When we first started, I think we were all fighting over a box of kit. I wanted a medium shirt but ended up in an XL. The backing we get from the ECB now is excellent, with the kit, the grounds we’re playing on, the tournaments that are being held and the coverage we’re starting to get – it’s amazing.
IN: The message from us is for more [international] cricket boards to get a Physical Disability team together so we can have a World Cup rather than a World Series. Until these competitions started, the disabled people of Bangladesh and Afghanistan didn’t have an area that they could show their cricket in. So, this tournament was a great opportunity for us as disabled cricketers to show the world that we are of value, we play bloody great cricket and that you should come and watch us.
LT: We go back to the drawing board, keep training hard and practicing our skills to grow the team. We’ve got a great set of lads and the team ethos is excellent. Playing cricket is a great but going out there and doing it with your best mates is even better.
IN: I’m still able to hold my own in this group of players and that’s important for me personally. As soon as it comes to the point where there are enough young cricketers coming through to replace me, that’s when I’ll go. Being an ambassador for disability cricket is massive in my life. I love being able to share stories about what I’ve seen on and off the cricket pitch and sharing what I’ve learned in the past, it’s massive so I’m not walking away any time soon.
AB: It’ll be interesting to see where the sport goes because there are a few young players in the team who will be playing for the next 10-15 years. Hopefully we’ll be playing against some different countries and win the tournament next time!
IN: We look forward to whenever the next tournament will be. We’d love to go to India – we’ve seen the visually impaired guys playing in front of 20,000 people there. We’d love to go and do that as an experience – to play in that kind of atmosphere would just be priceless.