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Virdi: ‘Tough love’ at Surrey a wake-up call

Uncapped spinner eager to face West Indies: “I definitely want to be playing in the first Test or at least be in the squad – if I didn’t want that I probably shouldn’t be here”

By David Ruse

Last Updated: 26/06/20 5:29pm

Amar Virdi says some 'tough love' at Surrey has earned him an England call-up

Amar Virdi says some 'tough love' at Surrey has earned him an England call-up

Amar Virdi says some ‘tough love’ at Surrey has earned him an England call-up

Off-spinner Amar Virdi says being left out by Surrey over fitness issues gave him the wake-up call he needed as he presses for a place in the England Test team against West Indies.

Vidri, 21, took 39 wickets in the 2018 County Championship for champions Surrey but was left out of their first nine games of the 2019 campaign and underwent what director of cricket Alec Stewart called “tough love” with the club’s burly strength and conditioning coach Darren Veness.

The youngster returned in style with a 14-wicket haul against Nottinghamshire last term and is now eager to debut for England in the #raisethebat series opener at The Ageas Bowl from July 8 after being named in an initial 30-man training group.

“I don’t think I would be here if that didn’t happen [at Surrey], I may have struggled to progress to the next level,” said Virdi, one of five spinners in England’s Test training party, alongside Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson.

0:41
Rory Burns says Surrey team-mate Virdi is the type of bowler who makes things happen

Rory Burns says Surrey team-mate Virdi is the type of bowler who makes things happen

“My approach has always been more focused on my bowling but cricket includes everything, including fitness. I am a lot fitter now and it’s something I have definitely embraced a bit more.

“I probably didn’t put as much focus on that as I should of and I think it took something like that for me to understand how important it was, so I want to say a big thank you to Stewie, Darren Veness, Vikram Solanki and all the other Surrey coaches and my team-mates who supported me.

“Daz Veness’ physique speaks for itself – he is a legend, that’s a phrase I don’t use very often, but he has worked really hard with me, pushed me and shown a lot of belief in me.

“I’ve noticed it has had a big impact on my bowling. I really look forward [to fitness work], so he has given me motivation and opened my eyes.

Virdi says Darren Veness (pictured) is a 'legend' and has helped him become fitter Virdi says Darren Veness (pictured) is a 'legend' and has helped him become fitter

Virdi says Darren Veness (pictured) is a ‘legend’ and has helped him become fitter

“England are seen as one of the fittest sides in the world and there is a minimum standard I need to be hitting all the time.

“I need to be fit enough to play the game and make sure even after a long day’s play that I am ready to go the next day. That is key with me wanting to play Test cricket.”

Moeen, Bess and Leach are seen as the prime candidates to be England’s first-choice spinner against West Indies – but Virdi is determined to be involved.

The Surrey man has relished training with England in Southampton and has picked the brains of a number of his colleagues, including spin rival Moeen, who has bagged 181 wickets in 60 Tests and is now back in contention following a self-imposed break from the longest form after the Ashes.

“I definitely want to be playing in the first Test or at least be in the squad – if I didn’t want to do that I probably shouldn’t be here,” said Virdi.

When we arrived we dropped off our luggage for it all to be sanitised and sent to our rooms. We then had to go through a heat scanner. It is very different – when you are having food at lunch it’s two people at a table, it is almost like you are on a dinner date. But with everyone testing negative [for coronavirus], everyone is a lot calmer.

Amar Vird on living and training at a bio-secure Ageas Bowl

“I am very proud of myself to have got to this stage but the next stage is pushing for a Test place. Whenever that does happen, I am going to keep working hard.

“It’s great being around the boys and getting a taste of what it is really like at this level. I don’t try to impress as such – I want to do my own thing and be who I am. That’s what I want to show. I want to show what I am capable of rather than forcefully trying to show my skills.

“A lot of guys have been playing for a long time so that can be a bit intimidating, but everyone has been really nice. It is a great opportunity for me to learn from some of the more experienced guys.

“People are so free with their advice – you can ask whatever you want and they will try and help you as much as possible.

“I really enjoy watching Moeen bowl so it has been really good to see how he goes about his business. He is a great help in the nets and when you are around him he is always there for advice.

Moeen Ali is alongside Virdi in England's 30-man Test training group at The Ageas Bowl Moeen Ali is alongside Virdi in England's 30-man Test training group at The Ageas Bowl

Moeen Ali is alongside Virdi in England’s 30-man Test training group at The Ageas Bowl

“A lot of the best information you can get is from the people playing the game as they know what’s happening in the game and are doing it. That advice is invaluable, so chatting with Mo and bowling with him in the nets has been really good.”

New Surrey head coach Solanki recently described Virdi as an attacking spinner and the bowler himself says that is something he prides himself on, irrespective of the pitches he encounters.

“In my set-up as a bowler, it is a fundamental thing. You have to be aggressive and looking to take wickets,” added Virdi, who revealed he has been working on variations but is more focused on perfecting his stock ball.

Virdi helped Surrey win the County Championship in 2018 Virdi helped Surrey win the County Championship in 2018

Virdi helped Surrey win the County Championship in 2018

“Maybe the pitches aren’t always going to be suited to you but as a spinner, even if you are looking to keep it tight, my eyes are always on looking to take wickets regardless.

“I am still young and learning my skills so I will bowl the odd loose ball and may not get six balls in the perfect place but I think you will bowl a lot more wicket-taking deliveries.

“That’s what makes you dangerous – when batsmen know you can get them out on any wicket. It’s a tough skill but I am going to drive towards becoming the best at that as possible.”

Watch England’s three-Test series at home to West Indies live in full on Sky Sports from July 8.

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