One of the real attractions of heading to Hampshire for a stint of County cricket was to discover first hand exactly what it is that makes nearly every Australian who has ventured over have such a great time.
Was it the people, the places, the weather (!) or the actual cricket and the counties themselves?
Within a week of arriving I had answered that question. I was warmly welcomed and accepted into a team of wonderful people and I had played a game whilst it was snowing. Both were enjoyable experiences (well the snow was interesting anyway).
The large amount of cricket you play over here means you tend to spend less time training and more time actually playing – or travelling. One of the advantages to this was that we spent less time, both individually and as a team, reviewing or dwelling on what had occurred in previous games. We would talk about what we had done well and which areas needed work and then launch into the next game. Personally I sometimes find in Australia if we have an extended break between games I can over complicate they way I am playing by over analysing past outcomes. The County approach helped me to focus on the things right in front of me and to not worry too much about the little things or to over complicate my game. Something I will endeavour to take home.
I also thought that on the whole, the wickets were decidedly better that what we have played on in Australia over the last couple of years. They were balanced wickets that tended to wear quite naturally over the four days. The new ball always poses some challenges for batsman and even for this early in the season the wickets deteriorated at an even pace, providing some challenging spin and uneven bounce late in the games. Each ground tended to have its own unique characteristics as well, which is another area which seems to have changed over the last few years at home.
The last week of my time at Hampshire I was getting very excited to catch up with the rest of the Champions trophy squad. We have been based down in Cardiff for a bit over a week and the training has been very intense. We have spoken about how open the tournament is and though sections of the media seem to be doing their best to douse the tournament in a mire of negative press, the players are very aware that this Champions trophy will be one of the most even and difficult tournaments for some years.
Hopefully, some outstanding cricket from individuals and teams can overshadow the match fixing scandal that engulfed the end of the IPL. I certainly hope the punishments handed down to those involved will be strong enough to deter others in the future. Life bans from the game should be the minimum punishment.
Our first practice game against the West Indies was almost a relief to get to as the training had been full on up until then. It was an important game as our squad are all at very different stages. A few had been playing in India, some watching and some had come from the Australian winter.
We were a little rusty but fought back well at the back end of our bowling innings. Mitch Starc got better and better as the game went on. James Faulkner showed he spent his time wisely at the IPL with some outstanding skills at the end of the innings. Clint McKay made a great return from injury getting through his ten overs strongly and finishing with some key wickets in his last over.
Shane Watson was simply outstanding with both bat and ball. His length with the ball was immaculate but his batting was…extraordinary. From the precarious position of 2-4 early on, Watto simply blitzed a fired up West Indian attack. His 125 run partnership with Adam Voges set up a comfortable victory, achieved with over 10 overs to go on the back of some lusty blows from Mitch Marsh at the end. Mitch is one of the most exciting cricketers in Australia at present and he will learn a great deal working and training from Watto over the next few weeks.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia