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Date: Thursday 22 December 2011
Leicestershire CCC seamer Nathan Buck recently discovered that the learning experience provided by the England Performance Programme is not purely about cricket.
Although the core of the programme is spent developing skills and putting them into match situations, the ECB are also keen to give the players a wider perspective on life.
Buck, who has since received an England Lions call-up to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, spent two weeks training at Loughborough in November and had a week of team-building activities inbetween. These were no ordinary events as the theme of rescue was top of the agenda in North Wales and Manchester.
The ECB set real-life challenges with the water rescue team at the Tyn Dwr Outdoor Centre, Llangollen and the fire rescue team at Manchester Fire Service with the aim of pushing the players out of their comfort zone.
A competitive edge was added as the lads were split into two teams with the batsmen/spinners taking on their fast bowling counterparts. Buck was part of a five-pronged seam attack including Glamorgan’s James Harris, Northamptonshire’s Jack Brooks, Tymal Mills of Essex and Warwickshire’s Boyd Rankin.
The whole week’s experience proved thoroughly worthwhile and gave Buck chance to reflect on his career as a cricketer.
He said: “We had plenty of debriefs and time for reflection throughout the week and that helped us analyse our performance, which is a key part of cricket. We were able to take the positives from what we did well, look at how we could improve and come up with some plans that would allow us to be more successful in our next challenge.
“It was a real learning curve. It taught us about teamwork, communication and trust as well as fitness. We’re really lucky to be cricketers and the whole experience taught us to have great respect for the firemen and rescue crew. It also taught us not to take anything for granted. They do a terrific job.
“It taught us about dealing with pressurised situations and knowing when to be fully switched on. There is a time to be switched on and a time to be switched off, so it taught us all about concentration. There was a real emphasis on teamwork throughout the three weeks that stood us in good stead for the rest of the winter.”
Buck and his teammates had a rough idea of what was going on but the ECB managed to keep the finer details of the week up their sleeve.
Buck said: “We were at Loughborough in the first week and they gave us the details for week two on Friday. We had to be in North Wales for 10.30am on Monday morning so all of the lads booked a hotel for the night before and travelled on the Sunday.
“The ECB told us that we were going to the white water centre and to a fire station in Manchester but we didn’t know exactly what we were going to be doing or how much we were going to be involved.
“We were with white water rescue at first and got kitted out while the batsmen and spinners went to the fire service. We wore skins as a base layer, an all in one fleece and a huge dry suit with seals around the neck and wrists. We also had to wear helmets, life jackets and boots.
“We were all a bit unsure as to what we were going to do but we went straight into the river, which was big. The first drill involved the instructor splashing us all with water, which was absolutely freezing, so we became acclimatised pretty quickly.
“We then did some rescue drills where we had to save our dummy, which was called Lucy. Our instructor showed us some techniques for travelling safely in the water.
“Lucy was placed in a number of different grades of water from 1-5. The first was like a little stream and the second wasn’t too bad but the later grades were very hard. You had to go between gaps in the rocks and couldn’t see what was ahead so that was a bit of a scary experience.”
As Buck’s teammate Harris explained, it was a very demanding physical and mental test. He said: “We had a couple of easy ones to start us off but then the dummy was let go upstream and we had to rescue it before it hit the rapids.
“This caught us a little off guard; I was hooked up to the rope and some of the lads were making their way across the river to anchor me from the other side.
“We were not going quickly enough and the boys going across were not ready but I was a bit to eager to be the hero and attempted a David Hasselhoff moment and dived in for the rescue. Needless to say, I got nowhere near and was left helpless as I started floating down river!
“If it hadn’t have been for our physio throwing me a line, I may have been floating downstream for quite a while! Thankfully I was saved, the dummy was recovered and we did it again successfully before the sun went down.”
It was then onto fire rescue for the seam bowlers and another number of surprises were waiting for the lads.
Buck said: “On Wednesday afternoon we were driven up to Manchester Fire Service and they gave us all of the proper fire gear. We had face masks and full oxygen tanks.
“We did a breathing apparatus drill where you had to walk into a smoke-filled room and try to rescue dummies. It was like the drills that you would face when training to become a fire officer.
“Our group did well again. We managed to rescue all three bodies before our oxygen ran out. I was paired with Jimmy and we went in with somebody who was fully trained and rescued our body. The batsmen managed one rescue before their oxygen ran out so we were chuffed with our efforts!
“For the hose-running drills, you had to roll the hose out, empty in, and roll it back in again. The aim was to complete it six times in eight minutes but I found it really difficult. Boyd Rankin was really good at it – he had it off to a tee and the firemen were very impressed!
“We were then on Blue Watch with Gorton Fire Service in Manchester. We got woken up at 6.30am when there was a call but it was some distance away and had been put out.
“We followed in a vehicle behind the main fire engine to see how it all works. It gave us a great insight into how everything works and we are full of admiration for the brave work of the fire service.
“It was then onto another station where we did car-crash scenarios. Our sports psychologist Stewart Cotterill was inside the car and we had to use all of the big machinery to cut him out. It was potentially a dangerous operation but there were firemen on hand if we needed any help but we all got stuck in and completed the rescue.”
There was another team challenge on the Thursday that really put the lads’ communication skills to the test. Buck said: “We had a lego challenge, which was really interesting. There were five of us in different rooms and we had to build the same structure. The lads on either end only had one walkie talkie.
“So Room one could only talk to room two, and room five could only talk to room four. Room two could talk to one and three, room three could talk to two and four, and room four could talk to three and five. We had twenty minutes to complete the task and we did well.
“With a little more time, we’d have been able to complete the challenge perfectly. We beat the batsmen on that one as well! It was a real test of our spoken communication skills.”
The first three weeks also took in plenty of cricket that proved useful ahead of the next part of the programme, a trip to Potchefstroom in South Africa. Buck again impressed the selectors and was called up to the England Lions squad for two tours in the New Year.
If all goes to plan, Buck may face the full England squad in a one-day game in Abu Dhabi so there is plenty of opportunity to shine on the trip. Buck is looking forward to the tour and selection is due reward for the impressive comeback from an ankle injury he picked up in April.
As fast bowlers put their bodies under a huge amount of pressure, the ECB and Leicestershire CCC carefully manage the players’ workloads and Buck has been building up steadily over the winter to get him to this stage.
“There were plenty of cricket drills during the first part of the EPP but I didn’t do any bowling during the three weeks,” he said.
“There was lots of batting work and fielding drills and some days the ECB turned the temperature up to 28 degrees to replicate the conditions we would be facing in Potchefstroom. So you’re really made to sweat! It was all good experience though and it all helps your development.
“The trip to Potchefstroom was a great experience and I was delighted to get the England Lions call-up again. I am really looking forward to the tour and can’t wait to get stuck in.
“Before the trip to South Africa, I was back doing gym work at Grace Road and it was been good to catch up with the lads and put in some hard work with them.
“Everybody is eager to have a good 2012 season and I want to avoid injuries this season. It would be great to replicate our t20 success but we also want to improve our four-day and CB40 form. We want to do well on all fronts.”