Cricket: Man in the middle: Folland's career move proves a minor miracle: Nick Folland

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The Independent Online
IN THE old days schoolmasters returned to the shires in July, cravatted and blazered, relegating the callous-handed pros to the Seconds while they enjoyed a spot of county cricket. Nowadays it's all or nothing, requiring a headmaster willing to fill a gap in his staff from April to September.

Nick Folland, geography and PE master at Blundell's, Tiverton, is a highly unusual debutant in professional cricket - 29 years old, with no apprenticeship on the Lord's ground staff and county Seconds, and yet suddenly he's a Somerset regular.

Not so sudden, in fact - after working with deaf children he qualified as a teacher in order to have more time to play cricket. Since 1981 he has played for Devon, latterly as captain (a job he has handed to the former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck); he made 82 for the Minor Counties against the Indians in 1990, and a century for them last year. So how did the final leap come about?

'It was a long-term process. I'd been noticed in the Minor Counties, but there were rumours that I didn't want to play first-class, and obviously questions as to whether I'd be good enough. Last year I came up to London to watch a NatWest game, and Bob Cottam (the Somerset cricket manager) made me an offer. The next day I had a chat with the new headmaster - the previous one was used to me having time off of course, but a full county season was something different - and on the day after I went back to Taunton and signed. I had begun to think that time had passed me by, that I wouldn't get the opportunity.

'I had one Championship game and a Sunday league last year, made 82 against Worcestershire, but being captain of Devon I felt I had obligations down there. I was caught between the two. Now that's sorted out, and the attitude of the school is as long as I'm doing all right, carry on.'

Folland was talking with Somerset sitting in an unfamiliar position at the top of the Championship table. 'At the beginning of the season we backed ourselves as strong contenders,' he says. 'We are a powerful bowling side now. Mushtaq is just marvellous, and Caddick goes from strength to strength. Van Troost is very quick, and Mallender's fit again. It's up to the rest of us to get the runs for them to bowl at.'

Folland was involved in controversy last week when Viv Richards made his last appearance at Taunton. He caught the great man, but, like W G Grace, Richards stood his ground. Folland bears no resentment towards the greatest batsman ever to spank a ball into St James's churchyard.

'I should have caught it cleanly, shouldn't I? I had it, it bobbled out, it went from right hand to left. Viv was very determined. He'd just been made a life member of Somerset, buried the past, it was his farewell. But I knew I'd caught it]'

With a two-year contract and ambitions for more, Folland is under no illusions about his position in the club. 'I'm under pressure. I'm 29, and I've been employed to fit in straightaway and make runs. I've made a couple of 80s but so far I'm getting out too often in the 20s and 30s - I know that. There's no honeymoon period for me. But I'm enjoying every minute.'

(Photograph omitted)