Angus Fraser: Academy struggles to justify high fees

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff's Test side are not the only England team that could do with a win in Perth. England A, masquerading as the National Academy squad, have had a pretty grim time of it in Australia too, losing each of their matches to a Western Australia second XI.

The principal reason for the National Academy spending five weeks in Perth was to act as cover for the England squad while the first three Tests were played. Its second mission was to improve the fitness and skills of the 14 next best players in England.

Ed Joyce is the only player to have been drafted into the Test squad, following the withdrawal of Marcus Trescothick at the start of the Ashes tour. Yet despite two unimpressive performances those managing the Academy squad claim the visit, which has cost more than £250,000, as a success.

The presence of Michael Vaughan should have added extra edge to the training of a squad keen to impress the official England captain, but the early departure of Peter Moores, who flew home because of a family illness, would have hampered its organisation. David Parsons, England's spin bowling coach, took over from Moores, the Academy director, and he, unsurprisingly, believes the venture has been a success.

"It's been terrific," said Parsons. "We did not know quite what to expect because on the previous visits to Australia the Academy has been based in Adelaide. Hale school, the centre used by the England rugby squad before the last World Cup, has looked after us very well and the facilities have been very good. Vaughan has been terrific. He has been very forthcoming with information and very supportive of the staff too.

"The thing we have to decide is whether we are going to do this on an ongoing basis or whether it is a one-off because of the enormity of this Ashes series. It has been an interesting mix for those of us who work mostly with the Academy.

"In the past we have had a programme designed to develop players over a 10-to-12-week period. Here we have to balance the development of a player's game with the prospect of them being whizzed away to join, and possibly play in, the Test side.

"The prospect of this has added an extra edge to the programme and anyone who may be coasting would be given a gentle reminder that they could be opening the batting in a Test match next week."

The cost of setting up a shadow squad here is sure to be discussed when county chairmen and chief executives next meet up with the England and Wales Cricket Board, but Parsons believes that it was a risk worth taking.

"I could not tell you what the financial cost is but it was probably a gamble worth taking," he said. "Given the injuries England had on their last visit here, it was sensible to have guys on stand-by in case anything was to go wrong.

"But the players also get the added advantage of being out here in the sunshine working at their games. If none of them were to be called up, they will all have benefited from being here. It's disappointing not to have won our games but the results weren't hugely important because we set them against the dual objectives we are trying to achieve here. I believe several of the cricketers who are hoping to establish themselves at this level have made good strides forward."

England A will tour Bangladesh in the new year. Dhaka and Chittagong will not provide the squad with the luxuries they have enjoyed in Perth, but they will benefit from the experience. They may win the odd game too.

Fast track or sticky wicket

Fast Track

Owais Shah (Middlesex)

Shah, who was unlucky not to be called up to the Test squad in Marcus Trescothick's absence, impressed with 115 runs off 153 deliveries during the second Academy game against Western Australia Second XI.

Sticky Wicket

Jonathan Lewis (Gloucestershire)

In the first Academy game against Western Australia Second XI on 29 November, Lewis failed to impress the selectors with figures of one for 37 off six overs.

Amanpreet Pattar