Under-19 cricket isn’t kids kicking up heels, mankading non-strikers out all the time or even impressing your dad watching by the sidelines. It’s not even for kids. It’s for the GenY.
There’s a youthful exuberance, hunger to excel, adrenaline riding waves of enthusiasm and faces waking up to the rigours of International cricket. Some go a long way while some fade away. With an eye in on the future, they are superstars in the reckoning. Unabashed, undaunted and a spunky disposition at play, the U19 World Cup has been and will always be an unprecedented platform to offer a glimpse of what the future holds for the sport’s global arena.
One such future star Neil Flack, while captaining the Scottish U19 side in the 2016 World Cup edition hosted by Bangladesh, set out from humble cricket beginnings back home to carve out a niche for himself as well as hold the honour to lead the side on and off the field in a marquee event.
Here he opens up about how he captained an International side at such a young age, the challenges of skippering an Associate nation amidst Full Members, different captaincy qualities and essentially, how with rare opportunities, he read the big learnings so as to embrace bigger challenges on the field.
An Interview With Neil Flack
- Q) What was your run up to the U19 WC? Were you a regular in Club Cricket? How do the U19 players get selected to play in the WC? Is there a trial for it apart from club cricket/university cricket?
Due to the World Cup being held in Bangladesh, in January/ February, majority of our build up was done indoors. There was a lot of netting and visualisation techniques used to get us ready.
I was a regular in club cricket that year as was the majority of the team.
The core squad for the World Cup came together at U-17 level as that was when the qualifiers occurred. There was a trial held at the start of the season and that is where the core of the team was selected from, if players where to play well for their club or their region at the youth or men level they would be given opportunities in the warm up matches played before the squad went to the qualifiers. Some players from the slightly younger age groups and that led to players like Rory Johnston, Owais Shah and Ihtisham Malik earning their place in the World Cup squad.
- Q) Who was your cricketing idol while growing up? Whose captaincy do you admire the most?
I admired the playing style of Ian Bell. The fluidity of his stroke-making always kept me watching, no matter what format he played.
The captain who I admired the most was Ricky Ponting. His attacking style always ensured the games were interesting.
- Q) What kind of an approach did you employ in terms of captaincy?
I would like to think my approach is an attacking one. I am always talking to my bowlers about how we will get the batsman out. The team we had for the qualifiers and the World Cup was full of captains, every player was capable of leading that team and be successful doing so due to the cohesion we had as a group of players along with Gordon Drummond and Cedric English, our coaches, Rachel Scholes, our analyst, Ron Fleming, our team manager and Bruce Mutch, our physio.
- Q) Conditions in Bangladesh are different as compared to the ones in Scotland in terms of weather and pitch. How did you look to adapt? Did you have an acclimatisation camp prior to the tournament?
Before the World Cup, the team went to Colombo to get used to playing on tricky wickets and in extreme temperatures. The tour gave us an amazing opportunity to test ourselves before the World Cup against some extremely talented cricketers. We were also able to adjust to the extreme temperatures and humidity to prepare us for the Bangladeshi conditions.
- Q) What challenges did you face on the field, as a captain, during the U19 WC?
The main challenges I faced personally was pressure. I am the type of person that puts pressure on myself to score the runs and be able to do it successfully. With the team we had, there were always options to use and support from everyone.
- Q) What was your toughest moment as a captain? Also, your proudest moment?
Both my toughest and proudest moment came at the qualifiers for the world cup. We had just been beaten heavily by Ireland, our toughest opponents and favourites to qualify. The feeling I had after that game were of sheer pain and anger as I knew that we had not performed close to our best. It also amped up the pressure for the final meeting against them.
My proudest moment as captain was beating Ireland and qualifying for the World Cup and celebrating with my team mates. It’s not just the fact that we qualified, it was the fact that every single player had learned and stepped their game up from the game before; and singing the national anthem together after the game looking around the room seeing every player as ecstatic as the next.
- Q) Did you ever captain a side before you went on to captain Scotland U19s? What different mindsets did you have to employ from captaining a side in club cricket and captaining Scotland?
I was lucky enough to captain my junior club sides from under 13s to under 18s. I was also given the opportunity to captain my junior district team at the under 17 age group. The difference between club cricket and international cricket is that in our Scotland squad every player was a leader and had the qualities to be a captain.
- Q) You played a variety of teams ranging from Fiji to the Windies. What difference did you notice in terms of captaincy that every opponent team employed?
I noticed that the larger countries who have had more financial backing had the ability to be far more attacking and could play with a lot more freedom as they had so much more time with quality coaches and didn’t feel as much pressure than the smaller associate countries. They also had enough tour games and proper game time.
- Q) Personally, what were the major takeaways from the tournament?
I took away that I was capable of competing at a high level of international cricket as long as I could improve my mind-set while batting and I learned a lot about the future methods I would use as a captain.
- Q) Could you give us a little insight on how an U19 side is managed right from strategizing against big teams to managing player workload?
We focused on ourselves while preparing for every game. We felt we were a fearless team who were good enough to beat anyone on our day. The coaches had plans put in place so that the fast bowlers did not overdo themselves during the training sessions and the games, all the players appreciated the amount of work the coaches, physio, manager and the analyst put in to give us all the resources to perform at the highest possible level. We played with positivity, backed our training and our methods to help us execute the plans we had set out with.
- Q) The U19 World Cup showcased a lot of upcoming talents not only from the Full Member sides but also from the Associates. How do you think the Associates contribute to the World Cup- because these days it seems like they are an unwanted entity on the global stage?
Associate countries are crucial to the excitement and growth of cricket on the world stage, the players are immensely talented. However, they aren’t given the opportunity to express themselves against the best of the best. If there was more support from the ICC to the Associates, you would see full grounds in Scotland, like we saw this summer against England and Pakistan. The world will be able to see the rising nations such as Nepal, USA, PNG challenge and succeed. The Associate countries have earned the opportunity and right to increased funding and increased matches against the Full Member nations to prove themselves.
- Q) What is the path ahead for an U19 player in Scotland?
For an Under-19 cricketer the aim is to get into the development or ‘A’ squad for Scotland and prove themselves. It gives them the opportunity to show their skills against English counties and either get the call up for the national team or try to get a contract with one of the county sides.
- Q) How has your game improved after you returned from Bangladesh? Did you feel you could push for higher honours?
I have become more confident in my ability and I have become more attacking in my playing style. I have also improved my bowling and this year I was the highest wicket taker in the league at club cricket. I was given the opportunity to train with the national team while I was working towards the Under-19 WC which was a fantastic opportunity to learn the intensity of international cricket.
- Q) How did Greenock CC in Scotland and Latrobe CC in Tasmania help you develop your game? How was the transition from junior cricket to senior cricket?
Playing cricket in Scotland helps you improve your game on tricky wickets, the ball moves around off the seam and there is always a lot of swing. Playing for Greenock helps me improve my consistency and my captaincy as I am currently the captain of Greenock.
Playing for Latrobe helped me improve my stroke play and being able to look for gaps in the field as the playing areas were larger. I was also given the opportunity to captain their T20 side which improved my ability to learn and adjust during a game as I was playing with players whose game I was unfamiliar with.