Thirteen of Europe's finest young cricketers made their way to Port Elizabeth, South Africa last week to take part in the seventh annual ICC European Men's Academy.

Consisting of an intense five-day coaching and skills programme followed by three fixtures against local sides, the 11-day will tour will see the participants benefitting from a mixture of net sessions, video analysis, fielding and batting drills, wicket practice, and 1:1 discussions with coaches on player performance and goal-setting strategies. Taking advantage of Port Elizabeth's coastal setting, regular swim sessions will also take place at King's Beach throughout the tour.

The participants, all aged between 17 and 23, originate from five of ICC Europe's Member countries Denmark, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scotland. For some of the young cricketers it will be their first trip to the Southern Hemisphere and certainly for most of them, it will be their first experience playing at one of the oldest Test grounds in the world: Sahara Oval, St George's Park home of the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club.

Accompanying the players from Europe is a highly qualified coaching team led by Academy Director, ICC Regional Performance Officer, Philip Hudson. The team includes ECB's Head of Elite Coach Development Gordon Lord, former Ireland coach Adrian Birrell and former England seam bowler Richard Johnson.

The Academy's first two fixtures were played against Motherwell (2 March) and St George's XI (3 March). The final fixture of the tour takes place at Nelson Mandela University against the University XI side on 4 March. However, it is not all hard work and no play in South Africa: the participants will also have the opportunity to take in an unforgettable safari game drive at Amakhala Game Reserve, a unique conservation initiative just 40 minutes drive away from Port Elizabeth.

Academy Director, ICC Regional Performance Officer, Philip Hudson, said after the first week: 'The training phase of the Academy programme has been very intense with the coaching team pushing the players hard. We are trying to help the players understand what is required to play the game at the highest level so that European member countries can compete on the World stage.'

Reflecting on the standard and talent of this year's selected players Hudson commented, 'Prior to our arrival in South Africa, I felt that this squad was one of the strongest that we had put together and we look forward to seeing if this is the case over the course of our three matches. Several of the players have impressed the coaching team greatly with their commitment and talent.'

The impressive caliber of players attending the Academy was also re-iterated by Richard Johnson, who upon coaching players from ICC Associate Member Countries for the first time in Port Elizabeth said that many of the players have the ability to perform at a high level in International cricket. Johnson was particularly impressed at how the players applied themselves equally to all aspects of the game including goal-setting and mental preparation off the field.

Amongst the group is all-rounder Shan Munasinghe from Italy. Munasinghe, attending his first ICC European Academy and one of only two participants selected from outside the ICC High Performance Programme countries of Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands said, 'Coming out to South Africa has been a wonderful experience for me. Working with the four coaches, especially Richard Johnson, has helped me to understand both the strengths and weaknesses in my game.

'I am looking forward to the games so that I can take what I've learnt from training into a match environment. I have no doubt that I will return to Italian cricket a better and more knowledgeable cricketer.'

The Academy concludes on 6 March and has been funded by the Pepsi ICC European Development Programme.