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Read Rob Keyís latest thoughts in issue 65 of All Out Cricket magazine

Wednesday 3rd February 2010

I reckon there wouldn“t be too many better players of a bowling machine than me at the moment… Not that being good when facing the machine has any bearing on how I“ll go when taking guard outside against real bowlers.

I“d say that I am pretty typical of many professional cricketers up and down the country, in that I shall be spending any number of weeks from now until April – or March as pre-season matches start this year – traipsing in and out of indoor schools with my batting kit. Bowlers, on the other hand, will be doing similar, but will be best served resisting thinking they are ten yards quicker, and that their bouncer is looking more and more like Brett Lee“s as it races off a hard indoor surface. April pitches tend to dispel those kind of thoughts almost instantly…

Forget working indoors – the best thing I reckon any player can do for the winter is get themselves on a plane and out to Australia for a spell of grade cricket. For young players I think it should be compulsory. Nearly every player that has played for England over the last few years would have gone Down Under. KP spent at least one winter out in Sydney, so too Strauss. The only one I can think of that didn“t is probably Fred Flintoff. And that was due to the fact he played for England at such a young age.

I“m not suggesting that players go out because the standard is so good. I just think it is part of a cricketer“s right of passage. From boy to man. As a talented youngster you don“t get put into a situation where you are out on your own, fending for yourself – on the field or off it. Out there you“ve got no ‘big gun“ reputation to fall back on, and no mum and dad either. Plus there“s no cricket manager booking your flights or agent sorting out every little thing to make life easy. When you turn up at your first practice the Aussie club players will assume, to a man, that you can“t hold a bat and be waiting for you to fail. And not so they can nail you by speaking behind your back. They will be telling it to you, as it is. Face-to-face.

Come through this and you know you have achieved something. The real turning point for me was when I was pretty much ordered out there by the then Kent coach and former New Zealand star, John Wright. I didn“t realise it at the time, but it was close to my last chance as a professional cricketer. Until that time I was quite happy to spend the off-season with my mates in London, only occasionally thinking about my off-drive. But Wrighty saw things differently.

The first practice I went to with my new teammates in Perth at Claremont Nedlands, I wasn“t allowed to bat in the first grade nets. They were worried the quick bowlers would kill me. I couldn“t believe it. I must have, by that stage, scored five or six first-class hundreds. When I explained this to them they just laughed and said, ‘This is proper cricket now, mate“.

All this makes it the best thing you can go through as a young upstart. Get back in the trenches and fight hard to earn every bit of respect you can. It certainly put me back on the right track.

Issue 65 of All Out Cricket is available now and can be purchased from the Eleventh Wicket club shop at the St Lawrence Ground.