Wednesday 11 March 2020 6:20 pm

Marquees, team bonding and repetition: The secrets of a county cricket pre-season

A month out from the start of the County Championship, players are beginning to ramp up their preparations behind the scenes.

Pre-season has changed a lot since I began my career. In those days players were often on six-month contracts, meaning the off-season was left up to the individual.

Players might go abroad to keep ticking over during the winter months, while some would study or have to get a job in order to pay the bills.

Australian adventures

I was fortunate early in my career because I spent two off-seasons in Adelaide at the National Academy, which was run by former Australian wicket-keeper Rod Marsh. 

That meant the England and Wales Cricket Board looked after me, while I also spent time in Sydney once I had moved to Hampshire. My physio was based there and I was spoilt using the New South Wales facilities.

Indoor cricket nets
Cricketers train using indoor nets over the winter (via Getty Images)

Back then, the majority would stay fit over the winter before reporting for duty in the spring, when fitness would be built up and skills worked on. 

With players on year-round contracts now, it means the counties pay more attention for the full 12 months, and I’m sure that is one of the reasons for the raised standards these days.

Home or away?

Lots of counties like to take their players away on pre-season trips in order to train outside in better weather and encourage the team to bond off the pitch.

However, the coronavirus outbreak this year has meant the likes of Surrey, Worcestershire and Lancashire have decided to cancel their plans in the United Arab Emirates.

That is obviously a blow for their preparations, but there are ways to train in England at this time of year. 

MCC v Surrey: Champion County  Match - Day 1
Counties have been forced to abandon their trips to the UAE due to coronavirus (via Getty Images)

When I was at Surrey we would train inside a marquee which was put up over the square at The Oval. That allows you to practise on the actual pitches you’ll be using in early-season matches.

Having spent the last few months training indoors, it is a relief for players to get outside again. Indoor nets are not good for your body, with the lack of space forcing bowlers to come in off a shortened run-up on a hard surface. 

Indoors or outdoors?

As a bowler you can work on your technique indoors, but I would only bowl 10 to 15 overs per week. However, once you’re under the marquee the focus changes as you need to get miles in the legs and adjust to a match scenario.

That means bowling 40 or 50 overs a week up until seven days before the first match when you taper off and get fresh for the season. 

Read more: England have the spin options to be successful in Sri Lanka once again and climb the Test Championship table

Basically you need to try and replicate a match as well as you can. Bowling 20 overs a day and standing in the field for seven hours takes its toll, so you need to be ready.

It’s not just a physical thing either. You need to train yourself mentally, to work on visualisation and concentration. Coaches will often set up scenarios in the nets – position imaginary fielders and give batsmen a scoreboard situation – to try and recreate the pressure and intensity of games.

It is a crucial time of the year, because players need to be fit and firing for the first ball of the 2020 season.