Paul Nixon column – Players will be pushed to new limits on pre-season tours

Kent are currently over in the Caribbean playing some good competitive cricket, while Nottinghamshire and Hampshire are set to fly over to Barbados next month as pre-season work really gets underway.

Many players would have been away most of this winter playing club cricket, with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all popular destinations, but for those who haven’t been away a pre-season tour will be exactly what they’re after.

These tours are not all about the cricket. Yes, the season is just a couple of months away, but it’s not just about ironing out your skills and winning matches. Yes, you want to get a few games under your belt, but these tours are generally about getting your fitness levels up and a bit of team bonding, especially for any new players in the group.

I had some brilliant pre-season tours in my playing days. The very first was to the Farringford Hotel on the Isle of Wight. That was not the most salubrious of places! We had to crack the ice off the swimming pool to rest our legs in it, but running up the hills was good fun and certainly got your fitness levels rising.

We went to Barbados a few times too, including in 1996 when we had a couple of sports psychologists come with us, which really helped. It just enabled everyone to relax that little bit more and get the full benefits out of the couple of weeks we were there.

We also went to Bloemfontein in South Africa through Hansie Cronje and his father Ewie. They organised that for us. It was magnificent.

South African conditions are obviously a bit more similar to England than those of the Caribbean, but there is always the worry of wondering whether you can replicate the form that you show on pre-season when you get back to this country, ready to play in April.

You do get some competitive games in, but it all depends what you want to get out of it as a tour, especially from the coaching side. Do you want to get the boys working hard, under the pressure of a game? You find out on pre-season – when the weather is tough and you have to do a bit of training – who’s got a bit of fight inside them.

When you’re doing your sprints along the beach and running into a sea breeze, it might sound like a dream, but it’s tough. The guys who have done their fitness work during the winter will come through it, but you soon find out the guys who haven’t.

Of course, not all counties can do it. Finances limit what you can and can’t do, and you have to remember that it’s definitely not a holiday. Of course you get your downtime like you do whenever you go away and you can enjoy yourself, but, fundamentally, it’s about making sure you’re ready for the upcoming season.

As a player it can be great fun and can come at the perfect time for those who have been in the nets since November. You don’t mind getting up early in the morning and going to do a gym session, followed by a swim in the outdoor pool or the sea. It certainly beats rolling out of bed, putting on plenty of layers and going to your local leisure centre.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, February 10 2017

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