England Under-19s continue their World Cup countdown tomorrow when they face the reigning champions, South Africa, in the impressive surroundings of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
The 15-man squad arrived in Dubai on Thursday to finalise their preparations before flying on to Bangladesh this week for two more warm-up games ahead of the tournament opener against Fiji on January 27.
For Aneurin Donald of Glamorgan, arriving in Dubai continued a rollercoaster period in which he feared his World Cup dreams may be over, only months after joining the elite band of Welshmen to have captained England.
He led the team in the Royal London One-Day Series against Australia last August, but was then omitted from the squad for a triangular tournament against Sri Lanka and India in Colombo before Christmas. But the England management stressed that he remained in World Cup contention and instead helped him secure a trip to Adelaide, where he has been working at the Darren Lehmann Academy.
“I guess it made getting the call about the World Cup a little bit sweeter,” said the 19-year-old from Swansea, who was a good enough rugby player to represent the Ospreys at junior levels before opting for cricket as his career path.
“I was originally disappointed but I knew I was still in the frame. Once I was let know I wasn’t going to go on the first tour of Sri Lanka I was pushed out to Adelaide to spend a bit of time away from the set-up, if you like.
“That’s been really good – some tough fitness, plenty of tough cricket, and the training’s been really good as well. And it was a really good moment to have that call from Grav [David Graveney, the under-19s chairman of selectors] and to get back out here with the boys.
“Everyone’s really excited. It’s a bit of a luxury to be out here in Dubai beforehand so we’re enjoying it here while we can.
“I know all the boys, I’ve spent a lot of time with them. They welcomed me back in and we’re getting along as well as we ever have. Obviously it’s the pinnacle of underage cricket so we can’t wait to get started.”
Donald was joined by his Glamorgan team-mate Owen Morgan at the Lehmann Academy, both following in the footsteps of off-spinner Andrew Salter who went there last winter, and is currently playing grade cricket in Sydney.
They had one visit from the man who founded the Academy in South Australia in 2005, but currently has his hands full as head coach of Australia’s national team.
“He came in to speak to us once but obviously he’s had other commitments with the Aussie side,” Donald explained. “His name’s on the door but there are other guys who are the full-time head coaches, batting coaches, all that sort of stuff.”
Next stop Dubai and Bangladesh, couldn’t be more excited to have a crack at the World Cup and see the 19’s crew
— AD12 (@AneurinDonald12) January 13, 2016
This week in Dubai, the whole England squad had a similar brush with coaching heavyweights, as Andy Flower and Gary Kirsten, who are both working with the Lions in the Emirates, dropped into their first training session at the Stadium.
“Andy’s had a bit to do with us over the last few years,” added Donald. “It’s always nice to see him around and offering bits of advice to us – nice to know that guys with the higher-up teams are keeping tabs on you. He always stops and has a chat.”
There was one other especially notable cricketing event in the last few months that summed up Donald’s fluctuating fortunes.
After returning from England Under-19s duties he was given a run in Glamorgan’s Championship team, and in the last game of the season against Gloucestershire in Bristol he came agonisingly close to becoming the Welsh county’s youngest ever centurion – a record held by the former captain and current Somerset coach Matthew Maynard.
“I was on about 92 overnight with three overs left with the old ball,” said Donald, who was dismissed for 98 the following morning. “So it wasn’t ideal with a bit of rain around too.
“Obviously it was a bit disappointing to fall so close, but I’d have taken 98 at the start of the innings. It would have been nice to have that record for the youngest ton but I’ve still got a chance early this season I believe. So that’s my first target back at home. Hopefully I can get that ticked off quite early.”
But there are other targets before that – forcing his way back into England’s team, and playing his part in a successful World Cup. For Donald and all of England’s other hopefuls, that journey continues tomorrow.