Amar Virdi's friends Pope and Curran give extra motivation
Off spinner Amar Virdi only has to look at his close friends, county teammates and fellow former Surrey Academy graduates Ollie Pope and Sam Curran for any extra inspiration he might need to make the final step up to senior international honours.
The 21-year-old Virdi has been reunited this week with Pope and Curran at the Kia Oval, after being named in England’s 55-strong training squad ahead of the summer’s behind-closed-doors Test and one-day fixtures against West Indies, initially, and then Pakistan too if the Covid-19 situation allows. All the England group players are now training, in clusters, at different bio-secure county grounds across the country.
And that call-up was another significant boost to Virdi following his winter involvement with the England Lions, providing further evidence that he has moved his career on apace since the stutter of early last season when fitness issues kept him out of Surrey’s championship team and provoked Alec Stewart, the club’s director of cricket, to warn Virdi that he would fail to fulfil his huge potential if he did not improve his preparation to play the game at top-level.
Virdi eventually made it back into Surrey’s first team in July last year, taking 23 wickets in the final five four-day matches of the season at 19.65 runs apiece. In 2018, he had been a key member of Surrey’s championship-winning campaign, taking 39 wickets at 30.35 and also playing in all 14 games.
Until, however, responding positively to what Stewart termed “tough love” in his difficult early months of last summer, Virdi had looked in danger of being left trailing in the wake of Pope and Curran’s meteoric rise from Surrey’s junior ranks to England Test honours.
Now, buoyed by the Lions trip to Australia and his increased personal fitness regimes, Virdi is eyeing a possible England debut in the next three months with Surrey’s Academy director Gareth Townsend saying: “Amar knows that he has to ready to play at any time because the England schedule of games is tightly-packed and injury to other players or sudden unavailability could easily result in an opportunity for him.
“When England play Tests at Old Trafford in particular, too, there could be a strong case for selecting two frontline spinners, so Amar really does have a lot to aim at this summer.”
Virdi admitted, in a Surrey-produced podcast with BBC London’s Mark Church, that there was now “a bit more purpose” to his training sessions following the England group call-up. “Training at home is OK,” he said, “but the intensity of what you do is different when you have your teammates around.
“Being able to get back to work alongside Ollie and Sam this week has been great, and it obviously motivates you when your close mates – who you have grown up with since the age of 12 or 13 – have already shown what can be achieved if you work hard at your game. Hopefully, I can get to play alongside them at England level as well as in various Surrey teams from age group ones upwards.”
Virdi also said it was strange coming into a Kia Oval that remains eerily unpopulated even in an easing lockdown, despite the presence of other England training group players and coaches such as former Surrey batsman Graham Thorpe, now England’s batting coach, and despite construction work on the new Peter May Stand continuing in the background. “Although it’s odd being so quiet, it does give you some idea of what playing cricket behind closed doors might be like,” he added.