Middlesex’s Ollie Rayner, Toby Roland-Jones, Nick Gubbins and James Fuller recently all spent time at the British Army’s officer training academy at Sandhurst in Surrey, as they joined up with the rest of the England Lions squad for the start of their Lions’ winter programme.

The visit to Sandhurst was particularly poignant for off-spinner Rayner, whose Father twice served at the Royal Military Academy, first as a young cadet, and then later as a Colonel in the British Army when he attended staff college.

Rayner, 31, who as a result of his Father’s military background is the only first-class cricketer to be born in Germany, is the senior figure in the 16-man Lions squad heading to Dubai this winter.

On spending time at Sandhurst, Rayner commented…

“I was only very young when Dad was at Sandhurst for the second time at Staff College, so it was great to have the chance to spend some time there.

“I think he was pleased to hear we were going. He told me a few things to look out for, and for me it was great to have the chance to experience and appreciate a place which was very important to him, and to reflect on what happens at Sandhurst. I really enjoyed it, and I think the rest of the lads would say the same.”

It is the second year that Andy Flower, the Lions Head Coach, has taken the players to the Royal Military Academy early in their winter programme – working with Gemma Morgan, a former Sandhurst student who was the first woman to be awarded the Carmen Sword for outstanding performance as a young officer.

“I think it’s a great place for the players to spend some time,” Flower explained. “It takes them slightly out of their comfort zone, and makes them think about teamwork and leadership – areas in which the military have such vast experience, with Sandhurst’s motto of Serve to Lead. It’s about their development as people, not just as cricketers.

“We also have the chance to spend time with some of the cadets, and to visit the Royal Memorial Chapel, which has been a memorable and humbling experience for all of us. It has been a privilege to have the opportunity, and we are very grateful to Gemma and everyone else at the Royal Military Academy who has made it possible.”

After 36 hours in Surrey, Rayner and the rest of the Lions squad headed north to England Cricket’s Performance Centre in Loughborough for a four-day camp in preparation for their trip out to Dubai. Here they worked in groups with former England spinner Graeme Swann and power-hitting coach, Julian Wood, plus the whole squad had a session with current England Test seamer Mark Wood about the challenges of stepping up to international cricket, especially on the sub-continent.

Flower even brought two members of his local boxing club in Stratford-upon-Avon, coach Matt Pickering and lightweight Will Foley, to give the players the chance to do some sparring – an unusual and enjoyable way to improve their footwork and evasive skills.

The Lions will spend almost four weeks in Dubai, practising at the ICC Academy before playing three one-day matches against the United Arab Emirates at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, followed by an historic first-class four-day match against Afghanistan which is set to be played in Abu Dhabi.

They return on December 12, when a squad will be picked for a five-week tour of Sri Lanka in February and March including two four-day matches and five one-day games against Sri Lanka-A.

The England Lions squad at Sandhurst Officer Academy