By Sam Dalling
New Surrey head coach Vikram Solanki believes off-spinner Amar Virdi is fighting fit and backs him to shine on the international stage.
The youngster has been named in England’s 30-man Test squad for the West Indies series starting next month.
Having burst onto the scene in 2018 – his 39 victims helping the London outfit to the County Championship crown – last summer was more of a mixed bag.
A failure to hit the club’s fitness requirements meant Virdi had to wait until July for his first outing, with question marks over whether he properly understood the demands of being a professional athlete.
But Solanki has been impressed with the starlet’s recent shift in attitude and reckons the penny has finally dropped.
“He’s had an interesting journey up until now and he’s had to work hard on all aspects of his game,” he said.
“With the right people around him – by that I mean the right strength and conditioning coaches, the right type of support staff, both from an England point of view and from Surrey point of view – he is getting to the point where he understands that in order to be a professional cricketer, he needs to be an athlete.
“He’s responded extremely well, he’s really challenged himself. He is probably one of the fitter lads in the squad now, which is giving him an understanding of how that will transfer and enhance his skills.
“Talented is a word that is thrown around a little bit loosely at times, with potential and all those things, but he has all of those – he’s got some real skill that could set him apart.”
Virdi is one of no fewer than nine Surrey lads involved in the current England senior set up.
Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes and Sam Curran all join the spinner in training group for the test side and are likely to appear in the three-day inter-squad practice match scheduled for July 1
A further four players – Tom Curran, Will Jacks, Jason Roy and Reece Topley – also have a chance of international involvement in the white ball format having been named in the preliminary 55-man list back in May.
The lion’s share of those names came through the academy ranks at the Oval – with the club also arguably able to lay claim to Dominic Sibley.
When asked to share the secret behind the club’s success, Solanki believes the club is reaping the rewards for an outstanding setup from top to bottom.
“I don’t think it’s one particular factor, it’s all things thrown into the pot,” he said.
“The academy is a fairly challenging environment. I know Gareth Townsend pushes those guys hard”, he explained.
“A lot of that must come from even prior to the work that GT does – the commitment towards good programmes that are developed and maintained throughout the age groups.
“The commitment to developing those Surrey players through and offering them the opportunity to play in the first team bodes well for producing England cricketers.”
And of course, for any youngster opportunity and a clear route through to the first team is invaluable.
“I firmly believe that if you see an example of your peers going through – someone like an Ollie Pope who has obviously gone on – it is very likely that if you are presented with a similar opportunity then you see the path ahead.
“It’s often been the case where a crop of youngsters have come through because one of their mates has done it and gone on to achieve something fairly special.
“The others think “if he can then I’ve got every chance”.”
Solanki steps up to the top job having spent a period on the backroom staff under his predecessor Michael DiVenuto.
The 44-year-old’s association with the club goes back to 2013, when he joined as a player having spent the majority his career at New Road with Worcestershire.
Across three seasons in London, Solanki made 63 outings in Surrey colours notching up four triple figure scores.
Having retired from the game at the end of the 2015, the right-hander was coaxed back in by current Director of Cricket Alec Stewart.
“The move towards coaching came about because of Alec,” he said.
“He kindly spoke to me about remaining involved at the club and initially spending some time in the 2nd team.
“I had a good opportunity to work with some very generous players – by that I mean generous with their time and attention – so I fully understood the impact a relatively senior figure has on younger lads.
“I saw value in what Alec was suggesting I do for a little while in spending some time with the second team, working with some of those youngsters to pass on a little experience and see how I felt about being involved in that capacity.
“I’m grateful for that opportunity. That opened my eyes to my desire to want to stay involved in a hands-on capacity.
“Playing is wonderful but coaching comes very close. That opportunity and experience for the six months made me understand that.”
When Solanki and his troops return to training, the difference will be that he’s now at the helm.
As well as his technical role, much more focus will be on tactical side of things.
But pressed on how his day-to-day work changing, Solanki was keen to impress he will remain true to his principles.
“I’m going to remain true to my coaching philosophy,” he said.
“At the front and centre of my mind is to try and develop people as players as well as young human beings going about their lives.
“I’ve got a good relationship with a lot of these guys, I’ve worked more with some of the younger guys because of my time with the second team and I know all of them very well.
“The technical work I might be doing with any of the batters will continue. There will be a far more strategic help, and I will have a little bit more on my plate as far as the overall plan and that’s the way I’d separate.
“I was always involved in those conversations, there might be times where I will be leading those conversations rather than participating.
Sometimes it can be difficult to transition from one role to another, particularly if you’ve been involved in the dressing room as a player, but Solanki doesn’t foresee any issues there either.
“I consider myself lucky to have played with them,” he explained.
“Sometimes it can be a little bit tricky – familiarity at times is a difficult one to separate, but the fact I’ve been assistant coach for a little while and had a bit of a transition towards becoming Head Coach eases those difficult scenarios.”