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Phil Salt opens up on Welsh upbringing

Sussex and England squad batsman Phil Salt has paid tribute to his early coaching in north Wales for helping him develop to the international stage.

Salt played for North East Wales Under-11s before moving to the West Indies and completing his education in Surrey.

He could become the first Welshman to play for England since Simon Jones in 2005.

Sussex opener Salt, 23, has been training with England and could feature in the summer's limited-overs matches.

He believes the attitude of his early club and regional coaches was vital in his progress.

"St Asaph is where I started playing cricket, I loved it there. It's just a good community club, my brother got me down there," Salt said.

"I was coached by Gareth Ryan - some clubs are lucky to have a guy like that who's been round for years, played for the first team and is coaching every weeknight.

"I'm so grateful to the people around me when I kept hitting the ball up the chimney for six because some coaches don't let kids do that, I was just encouraged to enjoy the game and that's part of the reason I love the game so much now.

"I must have been about seven (when I started), then I went on to represent North East Wales, I remember getting that letter in the post, it was like getting the ticket for Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory."

Despite his lack of a Welsh accent, Bodelwyddan-born Salt is in no doubt which side of the border his loyalties lie.

"We lived in Wales and were Welsh but I went to school in Chester over the border and you'd have all the classic English Welsh banter you get from kids," Salt said.

"It got called out at assembly that I'd been selected and I remember getting a good ribbing and giving it back twice as hard.

"I don't think I'd see tomorrow if I told my mum I supported England at anything, so it's a good thing England and Wales are merged together in cricket otherwise she wouldn't let me play for England.

"You mainly get stick around rugby as a Welshman down here, but none of the (Sussex) boys are into rugby that much - though in the (2016 football) Euros when England got their winner (against Wales) the boys were just giving it to me and I was just gutted."

The Lion, the Witch and the... wicketkeeper

He also revealed how a chance meeting after a school play written by CS Lewis (author of the Narnia series) led him to become an opening bat.

"I used to bat middle-order, keep wicket and captain. Then I was in a school production of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' as a bush, with a rotation of family members watching me," he said.

"The coach was there and my nain's (gran's) partner, Graham, told me to ask him if I could open the batting in the regional schools final.

"So I marched up to him, full of myself after being a bush in this production, and said could I open the batting, he loved it. That was the first time I opened in a competitive game, we won and that's how it happened."

Salt also told BBC Sussex how a familiar face from his schooldays appeared in the crowd to celebrate his breakthrough playing for Adelaide Strikers in Australia's prestigious Big Bash competition.

"I still keep in contact with the North East Wales coach Tim Newhouse," he said.

"In the sixth game in the Big Bash in Melbourne I got 50 off about 21 balls and Tim, who selected me for the under-11s, was in the crowd.

"I had a chat with him and it was really nice, he picked me in my first ever representative side and he's there to watch me get my first Big Bash 50."

Getting shirty with Lloyd

Meanwhile, Glamorgan all-rounder David Lloyd is among the international stars from the global T20 circuit whose shirts adorn Salt's wall.

"My brother used to talk about David Lloyd from Wrexham who was going down to play for Glammy," he said.

"So last year when we played Glammy in a 50-overs game I swapped shirts with Dai Lloyd just because we both come from north Wales and we're in the professional game."

Those Welsh origins almost had a perfect conclusion when Salt was called into the England squad for a T20 match against Pakistan in Cardiff in 2019, but he did not make the match XI.

Now with splits between the Test and limited-overs squad likely as England try to maximise the amount of international cricket in the scaled-back summer, Salt has a strong chance of breaking that drought of Welsh players in the England shirt.

"Playing international cricket is what you dream of, from being a young lad to now, it's the pinnacle - to pull on an England shirt would be unbelievable," he added.

His early mentors may not be able to attend in person if the matches are all behind closed doors, but if Salt does make it, there are sure to be cheers from one corner of Wales in particular.

This interview originally featured on BBC Sussex.