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James Hildreth: 16 pre-seasons and counting!

James Hildreth made his Somerset First XI debut back in 2003.

It’s now 15 years later and he is getting ready for the start of another season in the firing line.

During that time he has seen an awful lot of changes in the county game as he explained when we sat down with him this week.

“Things have changed so much in that time,” he said. “When I first came in to the game, 12 month contracts had just started to come in and a lot of the players like Rob Turner, Mike Burns, Peter Bowler and Keith Parsons all had winter jobs. They played cricket in the summer and then had their own businesses or did other work during the close-season. Times have certainly changed a lot since then. It’s a lot more professional now and there’s a greater emphasis on fitness and health.

“I think I came in to the game at a good time because my group was the first intake of the Academy system as it is now and our generation was probably the first to really experience the fitness and nutrition side of things at such an early stage of our careers.

“Nowadays you get much more time around the boys because you’re in here all day and interspersing gym work with skills based work. This time of year is all about getting time out there in the middle, facing as many bowlers as I can and getting used to picking up line and length.”

Has James enjoyed using the marquee this winter?

“It’s been brilliant,” he said. “To be able to get outside has been really beneficial this year and having the marquee has been great because even though we had to cancel some matches, we’ve still been able to get out on the grass.

“It can get a bit monotonous in the indoor school but when you’re outside there are a lot more variables to contend with, which is great. I’ve been able to spend a lot more time on the grass than I have done in previous years. Facing bowlers off pretty long run ups is a good test and the surfaces are conducive to a bit of swing and seam which is exactly what you want.

“It’s been great for the bowlers too and we’ve done some catching and fielding out there as well. It was really bizarre recently in the snow. We were having a net in a tent on the outfield with snow all around, but it was 22 degrees inside! I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Is Hildy confident of success going in to the new season?

“I think all the counties are confident at this time of the year but I’m genuinely optimistic,” he said. “We need a few guys to put in big performances and to take 50 wickets or score 1000 runs, but the squad is in a good place. We’ve got a huge amount of experience at the top of the order with Marcus and then we’ve got a young guy in Eddie Byrom who’s been looking great in the nets, so we’ve definitely got bases covered.

“We need to start well. That’s been our issue in the last few years, so we need to start strongly, maintain that momentum and push hard at the end. I think we’ve got a chance this year.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who have played First XI cricket now. People like George Bartlett, Tim Rouse and Eddie Byrom now know what it means to play First XI cricket and have had that experience. They’ve had a taste of it and have now had this winter training and knowing what the expectations and demands of First XI cricket are. There’s healthy competition for places throughout the squad and the young guys are pushing us old blokes all the way and we’re in a really good place.”

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