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Matt Walker to work with England Lions this winter

Friday 23rd October 2015

Kent assistant coach Matt Walker will accompany six of the country’s brightest fast-bowling talents to Potchefstroom next month for their two weeks of warm-weather training.

But there is method in this apparent madness. Just ask Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood or Jack Brooks.

They all worked with Walker in South Africa last winter. Not on their bowling, obviously, but on their batting when the other coaches would allow – it’s safe to assume they were popular sessions.

The effects have been impressive. Plunkett could already claim allrounder status, and reinforced that with a couple of swashbuckling contributions for club and country in 2015.

Wood is averaging a very respectable 25 after his first six Tests.

Meanwhile Brooks has trebled his previous tally of a single first-class half century since his work with Walker in Potch, scoring unbeaten 50s for England Lions against South Africa A in Paarl, and then for Yorkshire as they clinched a second consecutive LV= County Championship title against Middlesex at Lord’s in September.

“The lads deserve the credit for that, not me,” insists Walker, who scored more than 12,000 first-class runs in almost two decades as a player, and another 7,500 in List A and T20 cricket.

“But it has been really rewarding to see Woody playing Test cricket and holding his own with the bat. Liam is a proper allrounder, and Brooksy did send me a text when I congratulated him on his 50 saying it was all down to me!

“It was a great experience for me, and I do think it’s a good idea. The game has changed hasn’t it, you need players who can really contribute and you don’t come across too many genuine tailenders these days.

"I’d never take anything away from county coaches – I am one myself – but I know what it’s like in a county season, and bowlers do tend to get put on the backburner when it’s time for batting, because of the schedule and things like that.

“So I think they all appreciated a bit of love and care, and one-on-one time, when we were out in Potch. In a couple of weeks you can’t be too ambitious, just work on basics and build them up a bit.

"Then it’s down to the lads themselves and their counties to take it on, which is a credit to everyone involved.”

This year Walker’s would-be allrounders include the Overton twins Craig and Jamie, who showed their batting ability in a last-wicket stand of 76 for Somerset against Yorkshire in May – when Jamie scored an 18-ball half century.

Of the other four, only Craig Miles has made a first-class half century, although Jake Ball, Tymal Mills and Olly Stone have all had their moments with the bat.

“I’m definitely outnumbered as a batsman surrounded by bowlers,” Walker added.

“That’s part of the challenge for me, taking you out of your comfort zone and striking up a relationship with people you don’t know.

"It’s also a great chance to see how that environment operates, how the best around operate in this sort of camp.

"I thoroughly enjoyed working with Kevin Shine and Ottis Gibson last year, and seeing how the medical team operated was a real eyeopener for me as a coach.

“I was taken aback a bit when Andy Flower gave me the call last year, and I’m delighted to be going back. It’s a lovely opportunity.”

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