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Paul Nixon column – Uni games are still relevant and must remain so

With the County Championship beginning, the counties have been warming up with clashes against University teams, and they’re a brilliant way to start the season. I was never bright enough to be involved in them as a student but played in many as a county pro against the Unis.

As a professional, it’s a game you want at the start of the season. They still have a few dotted in around the summer, but they never used to be at this time of the year at all. It’s obviously much harder for the students to fit these games in whereas professionals on 12-month contracts just want to play.

For the professionals it’s about gaining confidence and getting ready for the season again. These are competitive matches and you need to use them in the best way possible. It’s your chance to get some runs and take some wickets. At Kent, once you’d made a century, we agreed you’d have another 25 balls to see if you can get another one. That gets your eye in and allows you to practise more shots, while keeping it fun.

I like that because if you’re making double hundreds it’s no good for anyone. Get your century, raise your bat and get someone else in. You’ve shown you’re in decent nick by then.

You want the students to play positive cricket, which has become a lot more commonplace in the last few years. You don’t want them to come out and be happy to get 120 off 60 overs. This is their chance to shine, too, so you want them to utilise that opportunity in every sense.

Counties generally bat first and it’s a good way for those batsmen to test themselves and see what sort of nick they’re in. I once heard a story that David Gower scored a century against the students for Leicestershire before lunch one day, only running for shots on the off-side. That was a bit naughty and a touch arrogant!

The last couple of years I’ve been doing some work at Loughborough University with one of my old coaches Russell Cobb, Josh’s dad. He’s looking after them and I was absolutely overjoyed to see the standard of their performances against Leicestershire, when they led by 84 on first innings, and Northants, against who they scored 553.

The intensity of their game and attention to detail really impressed me and it’s no surprise they are giving the counties a good match. The level of the students has improved over the last few years – and don’t forget in the past they’ve helped produce such players as Monty Panesar – and they know this can be almost a trial for them.

They are coming up against first-class teams and if they impress then they tend to be watched for the future. There are six MCC Universities and it’s an area that counties have to tap into. Facilities are very good at these places, and it’s a good opportunity for these guys to do their studying and make it as a pro.

Some might see these games as almost a no-win situation for the counties but there are no nerves and you just go into it as a normal game. It goes on your first-class record and you’re coming up against fresh opposition. You’ve probably never faced these bowlers or batsmen so you need to get your thinking straight into game mode. The only thing is that it’s a three-day game, which is false cricket. I think it should be four, that will get you prepared fully.

They changed from a 40-over to a 50-over competition for the counties because it’s preparation for ODI cricket and this is the same. You want to get your body ready to play four days, which is what the counties will be doing from today in the Championship.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, April 7 2017

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