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Nixon column: Learning curve in Second XI vital to our game

(Photo: Getty Images/AllSport)

By Paul Nixon

As the county season draws ever nearer, the preparations get more and more thorough. But it’s not just about getting the first team ready for the new season, counties need to make sure the whole system is right from top to bottom.

Second XI cricket is a crucial part of our game. While reserve team matches in football often get little more than a second thought, the role that the Second XI play in cricket is absolutely massive.

It’s about giving opportunities, whether that’s to a young, up and coming pro who is looking to make his mark or a first team player who is battling to try and get his first team place back.

At Leicestershire, we are about to announce a former county captain, who has hung up his spikes in the past couple of years, as our new Second XI coach, and he will play a massive role in the future of this county. This guy knows the game well and will help us to get the foundations right.

Coaches play a key role in the Second XI. The head coach has to have good communication with their Second XI man, and the mentality has to be right. Leadership needs to be spot on, you want to be going at it straight from the start and not wait until your first teamers show up. But those senior players do need to step up when in the Second XI ranks.

For the first teamers, you want them to dominate, and to be selfish. Of course, you want the team to be successful, but if a first XI guy who is a bit out of form picks up five wickets, or makes plenty with the bat, then it’s even better.

It can be difficult, though. If you’re a regular in the first team and find yourself playing Second XI cricket, it’s not generally a good sign – you’ve either been injured or dropped. As a player, you can let that get to you and mope about or you can go out to prove a point. If you do the second, you’ll be successful.

I played a lot of Second XI cricket myself. It’s a brilliant learning curve and shows you just what you need to succeed. At times it can be just as competitive as a County Championship game, these guys are always playing

for their future. If you can’t succeed for the Second XI, you’re not going to progress.

And that is what it’s all about – progression. Winning the Second XI Championship would be brilliant, but what is more important is to see everyone at our club get the basics right and gain the experience. If you get all those right then success is a by-product.

As I mentioned last week, the demise of long-term overseas pros is denting our game.

When I was playing we had the great George Ferris and Winston Benjamin playing for Leicestershire. They would play in the Second XI at times and taught our team a hell of a lot.

The only gripe I do have is that the matches are only played over three days. You’re expecting players to go from Second XI, where they play three days, to the four-day County Championship then playing Test cricket.

It’s very hard to get a team out twice in three days, while making enough runs.

As I say, players can be playing for their future, so to have to take risks to try and force a result because the match is only three days old is asking for trouble.

*This article originally featured in The Cricket Paper’s 16 February 2018 edition. Subscribe here: www.bit.ly/TCP-Sub

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