Cricket: Cork prepares to reclaim old ground

Stephen Brenkley watches Derbyshire's troubled star limber up for his return today
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Dominic Cork, erstwhile golden boy of English cricket, trained with his Derbyshire colleagues on Friday morning. It was a light-hearted, bubbly session organised by Devon Malcolm on the outfield at the delightful Queen's Park in Chesterfield. The usual banter of professional sportsmen was exchanged. Cork was obviously pleased to be there; his mates were glad he was back.

It was a brief, happy interlude which marked a new beginning in the career of a 25-year-old all-rounder who two years ago took Test cricket by a storm which has gradually diminished to a breeze. He resumes his place in the Derbyshire side today for the first time since May. This time, maybe, it will be different. This time, maybe, Cork, as well as his supporters, will have learned from the past.

"He's looking and sounding like his old self," said Stuart Edwards, Derbyshire's chief executive. "This is early in his comeback but he's upbeat and positive; wants to play. We want him to play." Cork's return is probably the best thing to have happened to him and Derbyshire for six months. England can wait awhile.

Eight wickets in his first Test, including seven in an innings, an unbeaten half-century and a hat-trick in his third was always likely to be a hard act to follow. So it proved. Despite ludicrous expectations placed on him - and the suspicion that he was making the young man's mistake of believing the publicity - it was natural that he would discover the hardships of Test cricket. He missed the Zimbabwean leg of England's winter tour, then did not bowl effectively in New Zealand.

Still, his most recent act as a Test player was to hit the winning run in the final match of the series in Christchurch. Perhaps that has given him succour in the dark months since. He has played in only one match this season, against Kent when he took just one wicket. He limped out of that with a hip injury and a hernia was later diagnosed. Then followed disclosures about his private life in a tabloid and a public slanging match with Geoffrey Boycott, who described him as "a show pony", which some might see as just the sort of encouragement the golden boy needed when he was feeling ever so slightly dowdy.

He has shown resolve in his determined comeback after the surgery. At one point it was feared that Cork would miss the entire season, then that he would be out for four to six weeks. But he will play today in the Axa Law League match against Glamorgan and, given no ill reaction, in the NatWest Trophy tie against Sussex on Tuesday.

Edwards, who took over at Derbyshire this year, is aware that Cork may have been unwise in some of his public statements. "We've talked about a few things. I'm not sure he's been advised in the past about when to speak and what to say when he does. With the Boycott thing, for instance, it's easy for a young man who perceives he has been done an injustice to have a go when maybe he would have been better to bite his lip. I hope that he will adopt the softly softly approach I have always advocated."

Cork, of course, has been but one of Derbyshire's problems this year in their perennial courtship with dissension and internecine strife. The overnight resignation of their Australian captain Dean Jones, the demotion of the coach Les Stillman and his likely departure, and disciplinary problems with Chris Adams and Kim Barnett (whose appeal to the ECB against a club fine is still to be heard) have made Cork's problems pale beside them.

But there was no doubting Edwards' relief at the return of Cork, and as chief executive he is determined that Derbyshire nurture their players with rather more care in the future. Anyone who saw Cork at Canterbury will have noticed a rather disgruntled-looking man with a limp, not a golden boy.

Cork is keeping his own counsel for the moment, though in his initial comeback match last Monday for the county's second team, he let his cricket do the talking as he made 55 and took four for 16 as Yorkshire were beaten by four runs.