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Essex cricketer drops in on cricket practice

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Essex cricketer Kishen Velani went back to his roots as he dropped in on a London Youth Games training session for Redbridge this week.

The 19-year-old represented his borough at Europe’s largest annual youth sports event as a youngster, since when he has gone on to represent England under-19s and earn a professional contract with Essex.

Velani, who has helped Wanstead win the Shepherd Neame League title for the past two seasons, joined the Redbridge girls cricket squad session on at Wanstead Leisure Centre on Monday as part of the Big Kick Off week for the Balfour Beatty London Youth Games.

The girls indoor cricket qualifying rounds take place at Harrow next weekend (February 8-9), while the Redbridge boys are set for their own qualifiers at the same venue this coming weekend, with both teams targeting a place at the Lord’s finals on Sunday March 2.

Velani said: “I remember playing in three London Youth Games. It was a really good experience.

“It brings the community together, bringing all the players together to play cricket. If you play any competitive sport at a young age, you are going to get better.”

Velani also remembers the thrill of playing at Lord’s when competing in the London Youth Games, adding: “It meant the world, you can’t often say you are going to play at Lord’s.

“It’s great to have that chance at that age. It’s really important for the girls. Cricket in terms of women is growing massively.”

The competition – one of 81 across 30 sports in this year’s London Youth Games – is for youngsters in year eight and younger.

Redbridge team manager Pauline Osbourne is set to blood year six and year seven pupils with an eye on future Games too.

She said: “We are using this year as trial and preparation for next year. Three of the squad are year six and will be able to play the year after as well.

“We’ve been training since before Christmas, we started early this year because the whole of last year’s team couldn’t play this year. So, we’ve had to start afresh.”

The team is drawn from students at Caterham High, Woodford High, Churchfield Juniors and Our Lady of Lourdes School.

Redbridge finished ninth last year and Osbourne feels anything could happen this year, adding: “Indoor Cricket is a funny old game. I’ve had really good teams in the past who have done silly things and run themselves out.

“I’ve had teams that wasn’t as good and they’ve got through to the finals. You can never tell.”

The major goal for every competitor will be to follow in the footsteps of Velani, who is now looking forward to building a first-class career.

“I’ve dreamt of it my whole life.” He said.

“It took a lot of hard work to get here, but it’s going to take even more hard work to stay here.

“I’m at the gym every day trying to improve my game in every way I can. I’d like to play a few games for the first team this year.”

To find out more about the competing or volunteering at London Youth Games, visit londonyouthgames.org or follow @ldnyouthgames or @teamredbridge.

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