Cricket: Cox brings Tasmania to Taunton

Iain Fletcher hears Australian habits are paying off in the West

WITH SOMERSET lying third in the Championship, second in Division Two of the National League and looking forward to a home tie (against Kent) in the quarter-finals of the NatWest Trophy it is hardly surprising to hear that Jamie Cox is a happy man. "I don't think I could have landed up in a better spot than this," he said as he put his feet up at Taunton.

Life is certainly rosy just at the moment for the Tasmanian who is half- way through his first season as Somerset's captain, as his team's position and his own 895 runs at an average of 49.72 prove. The only cloud is that none of this has been enough to convince the Australian selectors to pick him for the forthcoming tour of Sri Lanka, and as he is now 29 it looks very much as if they never will.

"Yes, I'm disappointed because in the last four or five years I would back my figures against anyone's," Cox says. "The day I think I will never play for Australia is the day I will retire, but I still believe I have a chance because there are unsettled top-order places as the turnover of players suggests. But I've really had two careers because the first few years I was batting anywhere in the order and didn't really produce, but since 1994-95 I've consistently performed. Unfortunately my chances at Australia A level came when I was 21 and 22 and wasn't half the player I am now."

If he was going to be picked though, now would have been the time and Cox is honest enough to recognise that the odds on him donning the baggy green cap are lengthening rapidly. "I have to consider that I may never play but all you can ask for is a chance and keep performing well," Cox says. "That is why coming to Somerset as captain has been a great challenge for me, it has kept me enthused and enjoying cricket. I've loved playing over here and honestly I can say that there is no difference in the depth of talent to back home in Aussie."

Perhaps not in terms of ability, but the English game certainly lags behind in other directions, says Cox. "The difference is that at home we are more hungry, but that is because we play 10 games in six months and prepare hard physically and mentally for each game.

"Here, in June we at Somerset played four four-dayers and started another, yet if we play three in a month at home there are massive complaints. You can't expect players to be up for it and hungry every day, and there have certainly been times when my concentration hasn't been as it should."

Cox's answer has been to insist his players prepare for matches as thoroughly as is reasonable and possible. He has initiated a curfew on evenings before and during matches and a restriction on alcohol consumption. "To me it's simple," he explained. "I want to be as well prepared as possible and that means good stretching, plenty of rest and sleep and not going out late. When we have a few days off then we can all go out and have a good drink but I want to win matches and I think you achieve that by being more up for it than the oppo and that means being in bed by a certain time and being sensible.

"Also it's a tough season in England and the players live in an unreal cricket bubble. At home I have a career in a bank and it gives me a release from cricket, whereas here it is the be all and end all. Interestingly people say that you should get more like the Australian system but actually we are moving closer to you in going pretty much fully professional and I think it will be very interesting in five years' time to see how this has affected the game."

The observant Cox also has trenchant views on two current topics of debate in the domestic game - pitches, and the non-selection of so-called "awkward" characters.

"Some wickets are not good enough as counties deliberately tailor them. The Nottinghamshire pitch was a disgrace and the most dangerous I've ever played on. At Taunton we just ask for good wickets that carry and have pace because poor wickets are just bad for cricket and for players.

"And how Caddick wasn't picked for the winter tour is unbelievable. In 1997 he kept getting Steve Waugh out easily. That alone is justification to pick him. To say he is awkward is just not an acceptable excuse. Players need to be judged by their performance. Imagine Gough, Caddick and Mullally bowling together for England. That is world class - no arguments."

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