Will Moulton caught up with England’s VI skipper Luke Sugg, following the 2017 Blind Cricket T20 World Cup.
England’s Visually Impaired cricketers recently returned to home shores on the back of a solid performance at the 2017 Blind Cricket Twenty20 World Cup in India.
The side, skippered by Warwickshire’s Luke Sugg, recovered from a poor start in the group stages to keep up their record of finishing in the top four at every World Cup since the inaugural tournament back in 1998.
Despite being outplayed by a strong Pakistan side in the semi-final, Sugg thinks his players did well and believes they have the potential to emerge victorious next time round. We had a chat with him about how it went, where this leaves VI cricket in England and what comes next.
How did the tournament go from your perspective?
It went alright actually. We had quite a good chance of doing really well and getting further than we maybe should have – the minimum we wanted was to get to the semi-finals, which is what we achieved, eventually. I think we played well, we had some good individual performances and it was good to see different players coming through and stepping up rather than the usual ones.
One player who had an outstanding tournament was Peter Blueitt, who scored 509 runs in your 10 matches. What did you make of his performances?
It was great to see Pete score some runs. Having the double-run factor as well also really helps with him scoring the runs that he did. A couple of times he was run out before he got to score big runs and it was usually the runners who were at fault. But it was great to see him score runs. It really helped set our team up and allowed the other players to play some shots knowing Pete was at the other end doing what he does best.
And you scored a fine hundred against Nepal in the group stages.
That was amazing, getting my first T20 hundred and seeing the team to victory. I can’t thank the guys enough, especially those at the other end as obviously you can’t score a hundred on your own and you need your partners and your runners. It was great to get a hundred on the board and get the victory as well.
The squad had two new faces in Rory Hossell and Gareth Jones. How do you feel they fared?
I think they did really well. Rory fitted in straight away and even though Gareth unfortunately didn’t get onto the pitch this time he did fantastically well on the sidelines and was a real big support for the rest of the guys. No matter what the situation was he was always there to support people and was superb all the way through.
Was there anyone else who really stood out for you?
I think Ed Hosell, Rory’s brother, did really well opening the batting. Before the series he had a batting average of about 5. But he was thrown at the top of the order as the pinch-hitter and actually came away from the tournament with an average of at least 30. He managed to score his first international fifty as well. There were also good performances from Justin Hollingsworth who, even though he has struggled with the ball lately, excelled with the bat and showed what he can do batting at No.4, which is a quite new position for him. I remember his game-changing performance against South Africa when he scored 69 off 27 deliveries which was quite phenomenal. Everybody else pitched in with what we needed at the time with various players picking up runs and wickets.
That knock from Hollingsworth against South Africa came in the middle of a resurgence for the team, having lost three of your first four group games. Was there anything in particular that brought around such a change in fortune?
It was just believing that we were still doing the correct things. We had a difficult start to the campaign, which we knew early on as India and Pakistan are the best in the world with Sri Lanka arguably the third best. We’d like to put ourselves up there as well but on the day Sri Lanka beat us and from then on those three were above us. But we knew that if we did what we needed to and played our game we’d be fine.
How was the tournament received in India?
It was incredible. I remember one game we played at Indore against India and I think we played in front of something like 15,000 to 17,000 people, perhaps even 20,000 people according to some. All the grounds had loads of people there supporting us, all different fans. As you were walking through the airport, walking through the streets people were stopping you and asking for selfies, autographs and it was just incredible.
Is that something you feel is a growing trend, not just in India, but all across the world with VI cricket?
Yeah, I think people are starting to realise that what we play is a different game to that you see on TV, that it’s adapted to people with visual impairments and it’s allowing people who have that disability to play the game they enjoy. But it’s still cricket, the principles are still the same, people score runs, take wickets and so on. More people are accepting it now, especially in England and across the world.
What’s next for the England side?
There’s talk of another World Cup in 12-18 months’ time, which is likely to be in Dubai and may even be a 40-over tournament so we will have to see how that goes and whether it comes to fruition. But the boys will go away now and take a three- or four-week break before resuming training again. We’ve got loads of analysis we can use from the World Cup which will allow us to keep improving our game, pushing ourselves and then eventually push India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for the title.
How long do you think it will be before you can overcome those opponents?
I think that we will have a good chance if that next World Cup happens over the next 12-18 months. We will train incredibly hard with the support the ECB gives us and all the different aspects as well – the data analysts, the nutritionists, the strength and conditioning coaches – who are all part of the team. We were unlucky this time, we just didn’t show up in the semi-final. We actually went into the tournament thinking we could have done something big this time round so there’s nothing to stop us from being up there as well in 18 months’ time.
Jan 31: PAKISTAN (296-4; Akram 105, Khan 84) beat ENGLAND (199-6; Blueitt 71*) by 97 runs
Feb 1: ENGLAND (129-2) beat NEW ZEALAND (128-9) by 8 wickets
Feb 2: INDIA (159-0; Mundakar 78*, Majhi 67*) beat ENGLAND (158; E Hossell 57) by 10 wickets
Feb 3: SRI LANKA (307-1; Sampath 164*, Kumar 104*) beat ENGLAND (204-7; Blueitt 70*, Dean 50) by 103 runs
Feb 4: ENGLAND (257-5; Hollingsworth 69, Blueitt 55*) beat SOUTH AFTICA (214-4; Ledwith 96) by 43 runs
Feb 5: ENGLAND (215-5; Blueitt 68, Page 54) beat BANGLADESH (211-5; Rahman 56, Malek 51) by 4 wickets
Feb 7: ENGLAND (233-5; Sugg 100, Blueitt 60) beat NEPAL (143/7) by 90 runs
Feb 8: ENGLAND (251-3; Blueitt 98*, Hollingsworth 54) beat AUSTRALIA (193-5; Heaven 57) by 58 runs
Feb 9: ENGLAND (23?-4; Blueitt 74*, Hossell 64) beat WEST INDIES (232-4; Shim 106, Myles 55) by 6 wickets
Feb 11: PAKISTAN (309-1; Hasan 143*, Munir 103) beat ENGLAND (162-7) by 147 runs