Cricket: A talent the game forgot

Iain Fletcher finds David Hemp is desperate to take his second chance
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Fiercely proud, combative, sharp slip fielder, hugely talented striker of a ball, swift of foot and possessor of a strong flat arm in the outfield. All descriptions that will be used often about the Australians this summer.

However, the words also describe a potential England player, a Welshman if the truth be told, and for the last two seasons a forlorn and forgotten man. Last week David Hemp started to rebuild his career and by rich irony he did so by returning to play against his former county, Glamorgan, whom he left for Warwickshire during the winter.

Two years ago Hemp, now 26, stood on the threshold of a hugely promising international career. Asked to fill the not inconsiderable hole in the Glamorgan batting line-up created by the retirement of the master himself, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, Hemp responded by scoring 1,452 first- class runs. Selection for the 1994-95 England A tour to India and Bangladesh followed and the opinion in Wales was that this particular daffodil was flowering.

At which point, form and fate decided to test his character. The summer of 1995 was a disaster - 776 runs at 26.75 do not force a selector's hand, even Ray Illingworth. "1995 was shocking," Hemp said last week. "At the start I felt in great nick and although I was scoring 50s and 60s rather than big hundreds, I was at least hitting the ball out of the middle of the bat.

"Then my form deserted me and slowly I lost confidence. After every failure I reminded myself that you don't suddenly change into a bad player overnight, but the only remedy is runs, and for two months I didn't score any."

While Hemp struggled with his form and his career came to a standstill, the careers of his contemporaries on the A tour were progressing. Nick Knight, Jason Gallian and Alan Wells all made their Test debuts and Mark Ramprakash was busily earning himself selection for the tour to South Africa with a bumper year for Middlesex.

"I wasn't jealous of them at all," Hemp said. "They earned their selections through good performances. It was just frustrating that in the winter we had all been together, and now they were where I desperately wanted to be, playing for England."

To that end, 1996 was to be, in his own words "a crunch year". It proved so in more ways than one - running in from the boundary to catch a skier in a Benson and Hedges game, Hemp collided with a Morris, Hugh rather than Dewi, even though the damage inflicted might suggest otherwise.

Four nights in hospital, two fractured ribs, two cracked ribs and a tear in the lung wall - disaster had struck in one of the first games of the season. Hemp was told he would be out for a month. "To say I was pissed off would be an understatement. I'd worked hard all winter and I was determined to prove that 1995 was a one-off. The week before, I had scored a hundred against Cambridge University, and I was convinced that 1996 was going to be a good season for me."

If a week is a long time in politics, a month can feel like an eternity to an injured sportsman, but Hemp's troubles did not end there. A pain in his side and a feeling of heaviness in his chest forced him to return to hospital. Over a litre of blood was drained from his lung and Hemp spent 10 weeks on the sidelines.

A belated return to the 1st XI after a further month in the 2nd XI paid dividends as Hemp recaptured the form that had proved so elusive the previous year - 405 runs at 36.81, although not world-beating fare, was a welcome tonic to the disastrous first half of the season.

Hemp was not satisfied, however, and during the winter he decided to leave the county of his childhood. "I really felt that my career was going nowhere," Hemp said. "It took me so long to get back in the side in 1996, and I started to think that I needed a new challenge. When Warwickshire expressed an interest, I immediately felt good about the move. It was an opportunity to start afresh, at a big club. Talking to Phil Neale [the manager of Warwickshire] also helped because he'd been the manager on my A tour and had really helped me."

A successful pre-season tour to South Africa has helped Hemp to start the season full of confidence. And certainly Neale seems delighted with his new signing: "On the 1993-94 A tour to South Africa, Hugh Morris had told me of a young player at Glamorgan who he thought was exceptional. Hempy's had a bad spell, but his talent is obvious. He's aggressive, intimidates bowlers and hits the ball very hard. What he must improve is his consistency; if he can learn to bat for long periods of time, he will score very heavily."

This could be a big year for English cricket. Lord MacLaurin has pronounced his opinions and threatened to resign, the Aussies are here and a permanent seat might have to be found for John Major at the Oval. For David Hemp, however, the year is an opportunity to remind all and sundry of just how talented he really is.