Cork decides silence is golden

Jon Culley hears why a one-time hot-head opted for the cold, clinical kill
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The Independent Online
It was, you had to reflect, the kind of day that Ian Botham would have enjoyed in his pomp. Dominic Cork, England's most celebrated cricketer after the victory at Lord's, had been let loose on a low-key Sunday League game, snapped up a couple of wickets and then effectively won it with a 62-ball 57, the only half-century of a low-scoring contest. Just time for a quick shower and another interview.

Rested from the concurrent four-day match by a captain concerned about physical and mental fatigue, it was Cork's last opportunity for proper practice before Edgbaston. There, in the third Test against the West Indies, he will be asked to demonstrate that, having performed great deeds once, he can do so again.

"Obviously, expectations of me now are going to be high," said the man whose 7 for 43 at Lord's not only won the second Test but credited him with the best bowling figures on an England debut this century. "But in a way I'm just going to have to shut things out a little.

"I'm not going to take pressure off myself. People are going to build me up now and I'm going to try and answer them. But if it doesn't happen this time, I won't care if I go for 0 or for 100 so long as England win.

"And if it doesn't happen, I'll remember that I've done it once and I can do it again. I always back my own ability. I'm not the sort of person who will go around saying `I'm the best', but in my own body and my mind I know that I'm good enough to be there, playing Test cricket."

It is typical of the quality Cork believes is his major asset: the ability to harness positive thoughts. But there is more to being a decent Test bowler than self-belief, even allied to the level of talent Derbyshire have been nurturing since, as a 19-year-old five years ago, he dismissed the New Zealand opener, Trevor Franklin, with his third ball in first- class cricket.

Part of it lies in being privy to good advice and receptive to good coaching but another part is almost biological: the point at which all the lessons and experiences fall into order; the point at which the bowler comes of age.

A debut such as Cork's can become less of a milestone to be cherished than a millstone around a bowler's neck, particularly if he is young and immature, but it is in Cork's favour that the breakthrough seems to have been made.

"It is something that just clicks," he said. "The last couple of years I have been a bit too aggressive with my bowling, mixing up the slower ball, the inswinger, the outswinger, just trying to change it all the time.

"I've calmed down a lot, too. I've been called a hot-head and, while I don't know if that is really a fair description, I used to have a little bit too much to say for myself on the pitch.

"I've learned now that the more you say to a batsman when you keep beating him outside off stump the more he knows you are frustrated about not getting him out. Alan Hill and Phil Russell, who have been my coaches at Derby, would always tell me that Richard Hadlee would beat you and not say a word. He'd just let you think about it, and that's the way I'm trying to emulate."

It was Russell who helped Cork perfect the late away-swinger which has become his stock delivery. This season, after a tutorial from Malcolm Marshall, he has added a potent inswinger, the ball with which he dismissed Sherwin Campbell at Lord's. But, just as importantly, he has learned self- control.

"I enjoy the psychological side of bowling, trying to work out a batsman's strengths and weaknesses and putting him to the test.

"But Mike Hendrick, Geoff Arnold and now Peter Lever in the England set- up have all worked with me on keeping the ball in the channel, being a bit boring if you like, but building the pressure on the batsman, getting that control and swinging it away so that the batsman gets frustrated.

"I think I'm bowling as well as I ever have. I've got a rhythm now which I've kept. Now I'm just trying to keep going, to not change. I know if I have the patience to do that I'm bound to get wickets."

He has grown up in other ways, too. In the past 10 months he has become a father and toured India with the England A team, two events which, together, he believes helped him mature as a person. "Being a father has changed me a lot. It is hard work at times but you get your rewards.

"Going away to India so soon was hard. Being away from home in a country like that does test you: the conditions, the pitches, the different decisions you get. It was my fourth A tour but I think I grew up on that one."

His reputation grew, too, and he was disappointed not to be selected for the first Test at Headingley. But he remained patient and his stepping out at Lord's, the scene of his finest day in county cricket, of his match- winning 94 in the Benson and Hedges Cup final two years ago, rewarded him with an experience beyond compare.

"I was nervous because of the occasion, the first day of the Lord's Test with a full house. It is so different from any other feeling, even from a Benson's final. You've got an England crest on your chest. It makes you tingle a little bit."

It was the pinnacle of a journey which began when, as a nine-year-old glued to the television, he watched Botham write the 1981 Headingley Test into cricket legend. This was the cue for an adolescence filled with the game, with a tennis ball in the school playground and out in the middle at Betley Cricket Club, in Staffordshire, where his father and brothers played and his mum made the teas.

They are modest roots, just as Derbyshire is a modest county - too modest in the eyes of the more cynical observers of his progress, who wait for him to overdose on fame and seek more fashionable pastures.

But, unless the signals are misleading, you can take it that he is a player of loyalty as well as heart. "I don't want to leave here," he said, without being asked if he did. "Derbyshire stuck with me from an early age. I came here on a YTS, they offered me a contract. They've helped me and now I want to give them some rewards back."

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