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Mediocrity, the new final frontier

Why it's a massive honour to be considered for a second-string performance-squad spot

Alex Bowden

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Village cricket at West End, Esher in Surrey, July 19, 2008
A viciously contested village game, to determine the substitute ballboy spot for the Sigglesthorne 2nd XI © Martin Williamson
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The great thing about England's Performance Programme is that you know exactly where you are in the pecking order. We can't all be Jonathan Bairstow or Adam Wheater, mixing it in the higher echelons of England Performance Programme Squad Category C. If everyone in categories A and B gets injured, these players know that they could find themselves representing England Lions and from there, it's a short step to carrying the drinks in a one-day international. They're the lucky few and some of us have more realistic aims.

I myself felt spectacularly honoured to be included in England Second Stream Performance Programme Squad Category PH41-N. It's a great opportunity for me and I'm sure it will bring my game on in leaps and bounds. My inclusion was something of a surprise, being as I haven't played any competitive cricket for around 15 years - but that's the great thing about the England cricket system: no one slips through the net.

Apparently I owe my inclusion to a tip-off from a guy who used to turn out for Whalley Range Cricket Club about one Saturday in three, when a lot of the better players were on holiday. He spotted me and thought that I had some skill, tipped off the ECB and they got in touch. When he saw me, I was waiting for my bacon sandwich in the shop on the corner and I mimed an off-drive with the back of my hand representing the bat. He thought I had good technique and the ECB considered him a good judge.

The programme's pretty intense and even in winter we have plenty of training sessions. Last month's session was "basic fielding" and it was taken by former Lancashire allrounder Ian Austin, whose panther-like agility in the field is something we all strived to match. Sadly, even in middle age, he was head and shoulders above everyone else. At least now we know what's required. That's the level of performance we should be aiming for. This month's session is "preparing to bat" and focuses on the different ways that you can pass the time when you're a tailender and aren't going to be needed for a while - if at all.

The PH41-N development coach, Tony (I don't know his second name), says that he thinks my legspin is quite promising, so we're going to be doing a lot of work on that next year. He says that if I can get it through my thick skull not to try and bowl the batsman behind his legs with every ball, I might have half a chance of bringing my economy rate down a bit. He says that if I'd accept the bleeding obvious and bloody well act on it for once, we might bloody well get somewhere - which is encouraging.

A lot of people say that this is all an exercise in promoting mediocrity. To that, I'd say: I'm not quite ready to aim so high just yet.

RSS FeedAlex Bowden blogs at King Cricket
Any or all quotes and facts in this article may be wholly or partly fiction (but you knew that already, didn't you?)

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