Hello from Dubai – a good place to be in late November.
We’re working hard – we’ve been here 11 days now, and Wednesday was our only break from practice. But as a cricketer, it’s great to be out here with the Lions, getting some quality practice and coaching – and also getting to know a new bunch of lads.
It’s my second winter away with the Lions, and the surroundings are familiar as we’re based at the ICC Academy in Dubai, where we were last year for our T20 and one-day series against Pakistan A.
But it definitely feels different.
That’s partly because it is a different group of lads. We’re in apartments and none of the three guys I’m sharing with – Sam Curran, Stuart Meaker and Liam Livingstone – was out here last year.
But I think even for those of us who were here last winter, we’re starting off at a higher level – after all we gained from last winter, and then having the chance to put that into practice in a full county season as well.
I learned so much last year. I gained a lot of maturity as a person as well as a cricketer. It was a dream for me to be selected in the first place, but coming back again you reset your goals. We’ve got games against the UAE and Afghanistan at the end of our time in Dubai, and then there’s a tour of Sri Lanka in February and March. For me, and all the other lads I reckon, the aim is to get into the team for those games, and to put in the sort of matchwinning performances that gets our coaches talking to the England coaches.
You only have to look at what’s happened to Ben Duckett over the last few months to see what can happen if you do well with the Lions. He batted brilliantly in our one-day series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and now he’s made his England debut in Tests and ODIs. With the Lions, we’re only one step away.
Andy Flower is leading the coaching team again, and as a batsman I do most of my work with him and Graham Thorpe – and also Julian Wood, who arrived this week to do some work on power-hitting as he did last winter.
I’m also determined to make the most of the chance to focus on my wicketkeeping. I spoke to Bruce French before we came out and said to him I want to work as hard on my ‘keeping as my batting, so I can get back to Worcester next summer and really be pushing for a keeping spot.
I know Ben Foakes is here as the number one wicketkeeper, but I’m going to work as hard as I can so that if something happens to Ben, I’d be ready to step in.
Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, has also arrived to provide a fresh pair of eyes from county cricket, outside the England set-up. It was his first day at practice on Thursday and I enjoyed working with him in the spinners net, and listening to what he had to say. As a guy who played at the highest level, and has been a big part of all the success they’ve had at Yorkshire, he’s someone you want to listen to.
It seems a while now since we went back to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for the start of our Lions programme at the start of the month. I remember being really nervous about that last year, and I think it was the same this year for the new lads – they were worrying about climbing up walls and crawling through the mud on assault courses.
But they soon realised it’s not about that, it’s more about working together. For me, the big benefit of Sandhurst, as well as thinking about leadership with the cadets, is the way it brings us together as a group. In those unfamiliar surroundings you start to get to know lads who have previously been opponents on the county circuit. And you really feel the benefit of that when we get out to Dubai. It feels a tight group already, we’re getting on well, and looking forward to the rest of the winter.
A couple of the lads are looking a bit different though. Jack Leach, Toby Roland-Jones and Stuart Meaker are growing moustaches for Movember – with contrasting results. Tobes and Leachy are going ok, but Meaks is so fair you can’t really tell the difference. They’re all doing it for charity – look them up and donate!