England team visit WWI battlefield

Yesterday's announcement by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) following the squad's return to Britain, came following newspaper reports they could be headed to Belgium to coincide with Armed Forces Day on Saturday.

The trip appeared to have the hallmarks of John Buchanan, the ECB's new coaching consultant.

As Australia coach he organised squad trips to World War I battlefields at Gallipoli in 2001 and the Somme in 2005 ahead of previous Ashes series in England.

England's 16-strong Ashes squad and management team visited war graves, laid wreaths at the famous Menin Gate in Ypres and took part in a memorial service to commemorate those servicemen who lost their lives in World War One.

As part of the service, England fast bowler Stuart Broad laid a specially made stone cricket ball at the graveside of former Kent and England spinner Colin Blythe who died at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

The two-day visit concluded with players seeing trenches preserved from World War One before they took part in a team meeting to discuss tactics and strategy ahead of the Ashes.

"It's important to take a step back from cricket at times and this visit was a deeply moving and humbling experience for all of the players and management," said England captain Andrew Strauss in an ECB statement.

England coach Andy Flower added: "This visit was part of ongoing efforts designed to broaden horizons and learn more about the role of leadership and team ethics.

"Everyone came away from the visit with a greater understanding of what it really means to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for your country.

"We hope it will help strengthen our own bonds within the team as we prepare for what should be a very exciting Ashes series."

Richard Kellaway, Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: "The Commission is delighted that the England cricket team has taken the time to remember the sacrifice of Colin Blythe and countless other Commonwealth sportsmen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"People can learn more by visiting the Commission's cricket exhibitions at Ypres and at the Old Library in Cardiff."

The first Ashes Test starts in Cardiff on July 8.

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