National Counties Cricket Association

National Counties Cricket Association

National Counties XI all set for European Championship

08 October 2023
National Counties XI all set for European Championship

National Counties XI coach Tom Lambert has warned his players that they will have to learn quickly on the job as they face the fast-and-furious uncertainty of T10 cricket in the Dream 11 European Cricket Championship in Spain next week.

National Counties, who are again competing as England XI in the 31-nation competition at the stunning Cartama Oval near Malaga, will be among the favourites having won the tournament on debut two years ago and finished as runners-up to Netherlands last year.

As champions Netherlands are the only side to be given a bye to Championship Week, which started on September 16, with National Counties needing to win Group E to join them.

National Counties will face four of Europe’s cricketing minnows – Cyprus, Switzerland, Malta and Romania – in their group but, having been beaten by Belgium and Italy at the pool stage two years ago and Spain twice last year, Lambert is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s a really unique competition and a fantastic learning experience for coaches and players. It’s pretty alien so it does need time on task and the ability to understand what you are doing and what it’s like,” Lambert said.

“You don’t actually get it until you get out there and then you have to hit the ground running. The first year we got lots of time on task in the group stage to figure things out.

“Your attitude has to be spot-on and we got most of that right. Fundamentally just getting bat on ball and bowling balls for ten games in the group stage was massively advantageous.

“Last year we didn’t have a qualification week so we couldn’t bed the six new guys in and so we went straight into the Championship Week where the standard gets better almost day-by-day let alone year-by-year.

“So, it’s a fascinating competition and a problem-solving kind of a week. Whilst we do have that time with a group stage this year, the number of group games have been reduced by two days so you only have six games to get the job done and qualify for Championship Week.

“It’s a great environment to learn a lot about yourself and players and how you cope with pressure. You have three days to get over the line and if you don’t you are coming home.

“We have spent more time than in previous years vetting players, going through a pretty thorough selection process, having a day together at Banbury where we spent some time on task and made our decisions there.

“Since then we have had Zoom calls and training sessions and we are trying to get as much of the dummy work done before we go out there.

“We can do as much we have done and I’m really proud of the work the boys have done but ultimately they have to perform out there in three days to get us to finals week.”

Finding out information about the four nations they will face in the group has been a challenge for Lambert but he knows that any side playing as England will be the one that the others want to beat.

“We all grow up in an era now where there is accessibility of information if coaches do their job right and players do their due diligence,” he said.

“You can get your hands on footage of teams you are playing and speak to other coaches and get some intel when you are playing National Counties cricket.

“But I would be hard-pushed to say that we have found a huge amount of information about the other teams in our group. Switzerland and Romania played last year but Malta and Cyprus are new. So it has been a challenge although ee have scrolled through the world of You Tube and got some footage of them. 

“But it is a very unique competition - T10 on an artificial pitch – and if you play it regularly then you do have an upper hand.

“We are different cricketers to the cricketers from the European countries we play. Our players come through pathway and academy systems, they play red ball cricket and white ball cricket in different formats on turf pitches.

“We are going into the lion’s den so to speak. It isn’t as easy as it appears and we have to pick things up pretty quickly.

“All these teams are extremely dangerous. We found that out the hard way two years ago when Italy beat us twice and Belgium once on the way to winning it and then last year Spain turned us over twice and Italy beat us once.

“We don’t have a huge amount of intel on the teams in our group but they are the first four teams we are playing. They are the ones we have to concentrate on first otherwise there’s no point talking about finals week. If we don’t do that we won’t be there.”

Should National Counties reach Championship week they would have a five-day break between matches but they have taken the precaution of booking the Cartama Oval so that can train on three of those days.

“If we do go through we might have to modify our tactics from week one because in finals week there are always some more established players and teams,” Lambert said.

“They play a bit more cricket-based outcome where the scores drop but the quality on the eye is a bit higher. Whereas output-quality in terms of ball-striking is probably higher in the group stage.

“The skill sets that you need for each week will need refining. But that is all part of the excitement of the trip. You have to think on your feet, you have to have a bit about you because our boys are not used to being hit out of the park three or four balls on the trot. That will happen inevitably and you have to find ways of not having that happen or to be able to take it on the chin if it does happen.

“That is ultimately the challenge of the trip as well as respecting the opposition as much as possible. They have a huge amount of respect for who we are and if we don’t respect who they are - and the fact that they play T10 cricket week in and week out in their countries - it will catch you out. These are banana skins that we need to avoid.”

The National Counties squad includes only four players who have competed in the European Championship previously – skipper Dan Lincoln, all-rounder Andy Rishton, Oxfordshire’s Sussex batter Harrison Ward and Wales NC seamer Richard Edwards – which means that nine will be experiencing T10 for the first time.

Previous squads have included Tom Bevan (Glamorgan), Jafer Chohan (Yorkshire), Alex Russell (Northamptonshire) and Zaman Akhter (Gloucestershire) who have since been signed by counties having impressed in front of the television cameras in Spain.

“The exposure to playing on television and the pressure that brings is a great learning tool in itself,” Lambert said.

“You are out there representing your country, a lot of players are expat players and they are very passionate about their cricket and representing their countries.

“Along with the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland we are the big fish and the teams that other teams really want to beat. 

“It’s an extraordinary event to be a part of. It’s on TV your friends, your family and your peers are watching and there is a pressure on us to do well because of who we are.

“All of that is a wonderful learning and development tool for these players and I would like to think that somewhere along the line the players who have gone on to get county contracts will have taken something from the experience of playing in this competition.

“That’s the purpose of why we go out there as well as trying to win it.”

National Counties XI: Dan Lincoln (Berkshire – captain), Harrison Ward (Oxfordshire), Sam Young (Dorset), Freddie Fallows (Cumbria), Tom Hinley (Oxfordshire), David Scott (Dorset), Andy Rishton (Berkshire), Tommy Sturgess (Cornwall), Cam Hemp (Wales NC), Matt Siddall (Cumbria), Richard Edwards (Wales NC), Conner Haddow (Buckinghamshire), Toby Greatwood (Berkshire).

Coach: Tom Lambert. Manager: Richard Logan.

Group E Matches

October 9: v Switzerland (9.30am BST), v Malta (2pm BST)

October 10: v Cyprus (12pm BST), (v Romania 6.30pm BST)

October 11: Group E play-offs.

October 16-20: Championship Week (Netherlands plus six group winners)

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