The countdown is almost over – England Visually Impaired open their T20 Blind World Cup campaign against Pakistan in Delhi on Tuesday to kick off a packed schedule of nine round-robin games.
As the team prepared for their first match, head coach Ross Hunter spoke to ecb.co.uk about the challenge that lies ahead over the next fortnight.
“It is the most talented group of players that I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with.”
Hunter, who was appointed England Visually Impaired head coach in 2013, was optimistic about his side's chances: “We are pretty honest about it. We understand that India and Pakistan have a huge talent pool to pick from, much more than us. But I am incredibly excited about this group of players.
“It is the most talented group of players that I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with.
“If we play two of our best games of cricket we have the opportunity to win the tournament. We appreciate that we will need to play two of the best games we’ve ever played and we are ready to do that.
“We have the ability within the squad to do that. I think that’s a first for England Visually Impaired cricket, which is fantastic.”
They're on their way! Best of luck to our England Visually Impaired squad as they head for the World Cup in India pic.twitter.com/PYyuJ4D44t— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 25, 2017
One big plus for the head coach is the ever-developing consistency among the squad: “The core of the squad has stayed pretty similar over the past two or three years but the players have developed hugely.
“They have really bought into the level of support that we are able to give them through the ECB. I think the quality players I had when I first got involved have become better, more rounded players.
“I think this time we’ve had the chance to pick five players in each category – B1s, B2s, B3s that could all do well on the international stage. So we have 15 players who are ready to play international cricket and do well.
“We have seen some really healthy competition within the group.”
That strength in depth is particularly apparent in the B1 category.
“One of the big things we have got within the squad is an incredibly talented set of B1 [totally blind] cricketers. In T20 cricket they score double runs, which is huge for us because it means they can score so much quicker.
“They also bowl a high percentage of our overs – 40 per cent. We have huge confidence in them do really well.
“Our partially sighted cricketers have done so well in previous tournaments. The likes of Luke Sugg, Matt Dean, Justin Hollingsworth, Ed Hossell, Matt Page, Dan Field – all of them have contributed.”
The tournament will be the culmination of a lot of hard work within the squad – and an experience that none of the players and support team will forget any time soon.
“We are so excited. The way our cricket works, the team are effectively amateurs and they have normal day jobs. They work really hard during the week and then come and work hard with us. They have normal family lives and we ask a lot of them.
“When we saw that the schedule for the tournament included visiting so many different places and parts of India, is it unbelievable opportunity to go and play there.
“We can’t wait.”
England Visually Impaired squad
Luke Sugg – Warwickshire (captain)
Amin Afshari – Kent
Peter Blueitt – Yorkshire
Matthew Dean – London Metro
Nathan Foy – Warwickshire
Daniel Field – Sussex
Justin Hollingsworth – Warwickshire
Edward Hossell – Somerset
Rory Hossell – Somerset
Gareth Jones – London Metro
Mahomed Khatri – Warwickshire
Simon Ledwith – Sussex
James Millard – Sussex
Matthew Page – London Metro
Mark Turnham – Warwickshire
England T20 Blind World Cup group stage fixtures
31 January 2017 – England v Pakistan (England lose by 98 runs)
1 February 2017 – England v New Zealand
2 February 2017 – England v India
3 February 2017 – England v Sri Lanka
4 February 2017 – England v South Africa
5 February 2017 – England v Bangladesh
7 February 2017 – England v Nepal
8 February 2017 – England v Australia
9 February 2017 – England v West Indies
World Cup knockout fixtures
11 February 2017 – semi-finals
12 February 2017 – final