Things have changed dramatically in the last year for most if not all professional cricketers.

Now, with the introduction of 12-month contracts, management feel obliged to drag us away from our sofas where we would have been watching England play abroad and utilise our recently acquired strength and conditioning coach (or sacc).

Kevin ‘Kevlaaar’ Paxton is our sacc, a man who rarely smiles, has an affinity with spreadsheets and has to do everything at triple speed, even the simplest of tasks. In fact, this last trait seems paramount to any wannabe sacc. I also get the feeling that Kevlar is eager to get the fitness tests underway purely so that he can enter more stats into his spreadsheet.

For the old school, November was like staring at the gates of hell; the three or four weekly trips to the gym across five months seeming like an eternity. With their enthusiasm, the younger guys can take a programme delivered in spreadsheet format, but it’s harder for some of the older guys to get their heads around it.

The smartest move of the winter was made by Mark ‘Dusty Miller’ Ealham who saw the writing on the wall and declined the offer of an all-year-round contract, therefore removing his name from the gym attendance list. Kudos to him and I am sure he has been going to the gym like the true pro that he is, regardless. Perhaps he’s headed more in the direction of the café, but that’s not for me to say!

The younger cricketers, with fewer commitments can also escape the wrath of Kevlar by taking a trip to warmer climes. The southern hemisphere ticks all the boxes for some winter cricket and the opportunity to learn and have a good time. Notts have also had a few tourists this year, with the likes of Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Samit Patel away in India and the Caribbean.

Andre Adams went to India and Bilal Shafayat went to Pakistan, purely to get away from Kevlar and his orders. Alex hales and Luke Fletcher both went to Australia – fortunately their trips only overlapped for a very short period of time so the country is still intact. Luke will admit that his aim for the winter was to trim down to a modest target of 105kgs. Nervous about what the social side of his trip may do to his slim ambition, he has placed various bets with people thinking monetary value would keep his focus. If he doesn’t manage it, not only will it cost him a lot of cash but also quite a few laps around the ground. I am eagerly awaiting his return to assess whether my money is safe.

When the new year came round, our coach, Mike Newell, started to tweak our fitness programmes and brought in two days a week for the honing of our batting and fielding skills. Now, the batting is fairly self-explanatory (nets, bowling machine, pair up with someone and start hitting some balls) but the fielding, on the other hand, brought fear to the faces of everyone who had to go through it.

Mike purchased some machines for fielding practice. Effectively bowling machines without the legs, they are set up to point high or low, for both catching and fielding. All the coach has to do is set the speed and put the ball in – very unenergetic! The balls on the other hand move at the speed of light. When a cricket ball is being fired at you in a freezing sports hall (quite possibly below zero degrees centigrade at times this winter) at 60 plus miles per hour, it isn’t much fun.

That and not being able to hear how hard the ball has been hit makes the whole exercise very hard. So much so, in fact, that the machine was put away and the trusty bat was brought back out. At the end of the day, you can’t argue with the basics. No doubt the machine will reappear again when we make the move outside, however. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that all my digits stay intact.

At least now we’ve reached March, the days are getting longer and the temperature isn’t as icy as it was. With pre-season now upon us, let’s just hope the all the fitness we’ve done over the winter will help us get through the next month unscathed.

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