Andy Flower backs ‘ball-hitting’ benefits of T20 as England Lions brace for first-class challenge


Playing franchise T20 cricket has helped young batsmen to “hit the ball”, a skill that can be transferred to all other formats, according to England Lions coach Andy Flower.

Flower’s views come in a week in which the senior team’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, blamed England players’ “ODI mindset” for their dismal performance in the opening two Tests against West Indies.

While the senior side was receiving a thrashing at the hands of Jason Holder’s men in Barbados and Antigua, the second-string England side in Thiruvananthapuram were subjected to similar treatment against India A in the five-match ODI series, which the hosts won 4-1.

Ahead of their first four-day unofficial Test in Wayanad, Flower called the shorter formats “fun” for youngsters, and also praised the ECB’s newly proposed format, The Hundred.

“I think one positive aspect that comes from playing franchise cricket is that the young players are learning to pick the bat up and hit the ball,” Flower said. “And the bowlers are learning different skills. And those are transferrable skills in the all three formats.

“There’s soon to be a fourth format in England. I think it’s actually a positive thing. It’s lovely seeing batsmen pick up the bat and hit the ball to the boundary. Certainly, for youngsters, it’s a fun way to play. I think it can help one develop in all formats of the game.”

Flower’s opinions could not have been more encouraging for Lions’ captain Sam Billings. Billings, who has played in 15 ODIs and 18 T20Is, had chosen to prioritise the IPL over England’s first-class competition in the last few years and is yet to establish himself as a red-ball player.

In a bid to prove his Test credentials, he played eight matches for Kent in Division Two last season, making 370 runs at 30.83 and captaining the side to promotion.

But Billings has admitted that he would continue playing in the IPL despite being questioned for his abilities as a red-ball player, saying he would absorb the lessons from the tournament and seek to transfer them to the longer format.

“In the last few years of my career I’ve played white-ball cricket, just somehow I’ve played a lot of it,” Billings said. “I’ve been a part of the ODI team for the last three years or so, but obviously haven’t found myself in the team consistently anyway. And obviously the IPL cuts into the four-day championship at home. I’ve made a decision to play in the IPL. It is opportunity I can turn down, but I stand by that decision to play again this year.

“But the way the opportunity is working now, I’m getting to play more red-ball cricket. As long as my attitude and the things I control and my work ethic towards the game is right, I have no doubt I can translate these into performances in the longer format. I’m a bit immature in the terms of my development in the long format so I’m looking forward to try and progress in that.”

While Flower backed Billings’ decision, he pointed out that playing county cricket would still be good enough for an overall understanding of the game.

“In Sam’s case, he’s played a lot of IPL in the last few years. So that means he misses on about two months of playing first-class in England. And those two months in itself is a lovely learning experience. But like most things in life I suppose you get different benefits from various experiences.”

Flower, who was appointed as Lions’ coach in 2014, has played a key role in supplying a number of players to the national side. More recently, four players – Keaton Jennings, Ben Foakes, Sam Curran and Jack Leach – who gained experience of playing in Sri Lankan conditions during Lions’ tour of 2016-17, impressed during England’s 3-0 win in the island in November.

However, Flower feels the Lions set-up does not match the standards of the India A side, referring to the change-up in their programme since Rahul Dravid took over as coach in 2015.

“It’s quite a contrast from how the India A team is set up,” Flower said. “It looks to me that since Dravid’s introduction to the development area, investment in terms of money and in terms of commitment has increased, be it like triangular series where you’ve sometimes have two Indian teams playing.

“That is mirrored in their Under-19s as well. I think that sort of increased investment is a very positive thing. In England, we’ve moved the other way. We’ve decreased investment in this area. So it’s quite an interesting contrast.

“There are always budgetary pressures. I guess the decision makers always have to decide based on priority.”

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