Kevin Shine can’t remember being more excited by the young fast bowlers emerging through the Pace Programme than over the last 10 days in Potchefstroom.
The ECB’s fast-bowling lead has been involved since the start of the Pace Programme more than a decade ago, and this winter’s schedule has involved a warm-weather training camp at Desert Springs in Spain as well as regular sessions at the Performance Centre in Loughborough, before the usual New Year trip to South Africa.
Jamie Porter and Toby Roland-Jones have now moved on to the Lions after working with the Programme either side of Christmas, and opened the bowling together in the warm-up game in Jamaica this week.
That has left Shine and his support team with seven quicks to benefit from the combination of South African sunshine and the excellent facilities at North West University’s High Performance Institute of Sport – Tom Barber, Zak Chappell, Tom Helm, Jamie Overton, George Scrimshaw, Reece Topley and Paul Walter.
“It’s probably the most exciting group of bowlers I can remember working with,” said Shine. “They’ve been doing brilliantly, and they’ve each got something different that makes them potentially special.
“At one end of the scale we’ve got Tom Helm, Jamie Overton and Reece Topley – all with plenty of experience, but still all 23, so with time on their side to fulfil their international potential.
“Then we’ve got the four newer lads – Paul Walter, George Scrimshaw, Zak Chappell and Tom Barber.
“Walts is 23 as well, but he’s still very young in terms of his fast-bowling career – he came into the Essex system late, he’s only played eight first-class matches and four List As. But he’s big, he’s strong, he’s left-arm, and he can swing it – and he’s also a very decent batter, with genuine all-round potential.
“George Scrimshaw is a young man who we’ve been interested in for a while, one of several talented young fast bowlers who have come through at Worcestershire in the last couple of years. He was in the England Under-19s set-up although he had a couple of unusual injuries with them which restricted his impact at that level. But this winter has been another significant step forward in his development. He's still only 19, and has only played a few T20 games for Worcester so far.
“Zak Chappell is a little bit older and has gained a little bit more experience with Leicestershire, and he’s had a fabulous winter with us. He’s really enjoyed exploring the extra pace he can generate – he’s got that priceless natural ability to bowl quick. And he’s another one who has real batting potential – Tim Boon, a former Leicestershire man who is one of the most respected batting coaches in the business, has been out here in South Africa with us, and we have the time for the lads to work really hard on their batting.
"I think that’s one of the little extra things that their county coaches appreciate about having their bowlers on the Pace Programme – they tend to come back with a few more runs in them.
"The aim is for them to carry on up the Pathway – and they only have to look at lads like George Garton, Saqib Mahmood and Paul Coughlin out in West Indies with the Lions."
“Last but not least of our young quartet, we’ve got Tom Barber. He’s 22, another left-armer, and he made his only two List A appearances for Hampshire back in 2014. But he’s always had serious pace, and I think a few counties were looking at him when he became available.
"Richard Johnson got hold of him for Middlesex – he’s done some more technical work with him, but the main message has been to run in and bowl quick. That’s what he’s been doing with us all winter, and it’s been spectacular at times, especially when he goes full and smashes the stumps. Obviously it’s still very early days for him so we shouldn’t burden him with too many expectations. But he’s definitely a name to watch out for.
“The first aim for us with the four less experienced guys on the Programme is for them to go back to their counties in good shape to have a really good season. But obviously the aim beyond that is for them to carry on up the Pathway – and they only have to look at lads like George Garton, Saqib Mahmood and Paul Coughlin out in West Indies with the Lions at the moment to see the possibilities.
“It’s also exciting for all of us, and especially Walts and Zak, that they have been picked to play in the North-South Series in Barbados in March. That will give them the chance to practise with a lot of Lions players, and to impress the England management and selectors. It’s a great example of our various programmes working together – and I’m confident they will both do really well.”