By Matt Somerford
England will head to next month’s Blind World Cup in South Africa aiming to win the tournament for the first time.
Experienced captain Matt Dean will lead a 17-man squad that he regards as one of the most talented he has ever played alongside.
Six uncapped players have been selected in the squad and with a core of young players emerging Dean – a two-time Ashes skipper – thinks they can compliment the established players and improve on their third-placed finish at the last 40-over World Cup.
“We recently played some players who used to play in our team and the first thing that they said was that this lot were talented,” he told ecb.co.uk.
“We’ve got a group of 17-20 year-olds that are far beyond any players that we have had before at that age.
“In three or four years’ time if they are still playing, we’ll quite easily be the most experienced and talented side in the world and that’s an exciting prospect.”
Two-time defending champions Pakistan are set to again be the team to beat, while India won the inaugural Blind World Twenty20 on home turf two years ago.
England have not played an international since that tournament, but visually impaired cricket in this country has made further strides forward in the meantime under ECB Head of Disability cricket Ian Martin and coach Ross Hunter.
The sport has grown, with over 300 participants in the domestic competition, and the emergence of the young talent has underlined the steps being made in a sport where at least four players in each XI are completely blind.
“We would like to win the World Cup to repay the ECB for backing us,” said Dean, who will skipper England in a major tournament for the first time.
“It would be a dream to be a world champion. Yes we are looking to improve, you always are, but our goal is to win it. We want to come away with the trophy.
“That’s why we are there and that’s why we spend all of the time training.”
The tournament will not all be about results though with Dean also looking forward to the “carnival of cricket” that a World Cup offers.
“World Cups are always a very important time in blind cricket,” he added.
“I know all the guys are really up for that battle but also to see old friends because it (visually impaired cricket) is a community especially with our disabilities.
“It was a carnival atmosphere and very well run at the World Twenty20 in India two years. It’s great fun and it’s good to meet up and pick up new ideas.”
England have enjoyed a varied preparation from a team bake-off earlier in the summer to Mo Khatri climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Edgbaston has been the hub for final preparations as the tournament nears, with the squad fine-tuning their skills with the international-sized ball used by the rest of the world.
A bigger ball is used in domestic English matches, but regardless Dean’s squad are well versed against the international ball – which is filled with steel bearings.
“The England boys train more with the smaller ball than the big ball,” he said.
“It’s not a case of getting used to it, we’re used to it, it’s just a case of refining our skills and making sure we’re sharp for the World Cup.
“Coming back to Edgbaston to train has been really good to us. We’ve been training here on and off for a number of years so we know it really well.
“We know the staff and we’re really comfortable here it helps with our preparation.”
England Women all-rounder Jenny Gunn addressed the squad at Edgbaston yesterday and was able to speak about her own first World Cup experience – which also came in South Africa in 2005.
“I remember playing in South Africa it was a massive thing for me and I was nervous,” she said.
“I just told the players that nerves are good and that you really care about it.
“You have to believe in yourself because you are going to play for England, they wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t good enough. It’s just about self confidence and believing in yourself.”
Gunn enjoyed a busy morning of training alongside the England Visually Impaired squad, adding: “It’s been really good. I have so much respect for them and what they can do.
“They have been laughing all morning and working hard as well. There’s plenty of fun and banter. I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on how they go at the World Cup.”
For coach Hunter, a former wicketkeeper-batsman at Hampshire, the tournament will be the first time he has taken charge of an international match since he took over the reins 18 months ago.
His leadership has impressed Martin, who thinks a good result in South Africa is possible.
“We’re in better shape going into this tournament than we were going into the Twenty20 World Cup in 2012,” Martin said.
“It is a much tighter unit and better drilled. We’re hoping for good things.
“If the players can perform to the best of their ability, and that’s the main thing we are hoping for, then if they do that then we have a really good chance of being successful in the tournament. If that means we bring the World Cup home then brilliant.”
The squad will fly out to South Africa on November 21 before their first game against Sri Lanka in Cape Town six days later.
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