Hemp fills the void left by Richards

new faces for '95: Glamorgan have high hopes of a keen young all-rounde r. Jon Culley reports
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The Independent Online
Among hard acts to follow, not many come tougher than Viv Richards. But Glamorgan, needing to re-shape their side last spring following the former West Indies captain's retirement, had to decide who might be equal to the challenge.

They picked David Hemp, a 24-year-old batsman still trying to establish himself after three seasons in and out of the first team. It was an inspired choice.

Glamorgan have unearthed in this modest left-hander a player of high potential - recognised in his selection for the current A tour to India and Bangladesh.

After starting the season in excellent form for Glamorgan at Edgbaston, where his accomplished 127 was noted even by a media pack distracted by Brian Lara's Warwickshire debut, Hemp went on not only to confirm his promise but also to eclipse team-mates of greater stature as his county's leading run-getter.

The Welsh had been looking towards Hugh Morris or Matthew Maynard, or perhaps Adrian Dale, the "find" of the previous summer, to compensate for the loss of Richards. Instead, Hemp led the way. By late July, he had past 1,000 runs for the season well before any of his team-mates - ahead, indeed, of all except half a dozen players in the country - and was drawing comparisons for his elegant style with David Gower, if not Richards himself.

"Everyone said that there was pressure on me, taking over from Viv, but I didn't think about trying to score as many runs as he did," Hemp said. "I just set out to play in the way that was best for me.

"There was pressure in that it was my first full season and I wanted to make a good impression. I set out to score 1,000 runs but did not give myself any other target. There was no point in trying to copy Viv, or anyone else. I just had to play in my ownway."

His progress underlined the good health of youth and junior cricket in Wales. Born in Bermuda but brought up in Swansea from age six, Hemp is the fifth member of the current Glamorgan staff to be chosen for an A tour, following Steve Watkin, Morris, Robert Croft and Dale. Mostly, they are the products of a thriving club system.

Hemp, denied regular cricket at school until he left Olchfa comprehensive on a scholarship to Millfield, is a product of Swansea Cricket Club's energetic youth development schemes.

"Robert Croft, Tony Cottey and Mark Davies [of Gloucestershire], all came through the Swansea system as I did," Hemp said. "On the whole, schools don't have the facilities, but good young players are coming through the clubs. My father played club cricket and I was only nine when he took me along to Swansea for the first time.

"When I was 14, I played in the Under-14, Under-15 and Under-16s, which meant three or four matches a week as well as a second XI game on a Saturday. It was a good grounding."

Two winters in South Africa, playing for Durban Crusaders, fitted more pieces in the developmental jigsaw, including a measure of mental fortitude. "I am not naturally a confident person, which is probably my downfall," he said. "But they play their cricket very hard in South Africa and it does toughen you up."

The South Africans appreciated at first hand how much Hemp had come on when he made a superb, unbeaten 126 at Pontypridd, the highest score by any county batsman against the South Africans in 1994. The innings, spanning more than five hours, mixed stylish stroke play with steadfast defence against a varied attack. Mike Procter, the South African coach, declared him to be "a Test prospect, without any doubt". The possibility of a tour place had been mooted some time before the selectors gathered. Hemp tr ied not to allow himself to be excited by the gossip.

"People had been talking but you just have to get on with it and wait and see. When I started the season, all I wanted to do was gain a regular place in the Glamorgan side and score 1,000 runs. So to be picked for this tour was a big bonus."

Hemp was in Worksop when he learned of his selection, preparing to play Nottinghamshire on a chilly September morning. His initial thought was that there had been a case of mistaken identity. "I had missed hearing the list on the nine o'clock sports bulletin and when I listened to the radio again at 9.30 the names weren't read out.

"Then some people came into the dressing room to congratulate me. My first reaction was to say that they must be mixing me up with Richard Stemp but, of course, we were both in."

After making his county debut in 1991, Hemp's confidence suffered through his failure to hold down a permanent place. Last season's progress has helped remove some doubts in his mind, which can only bode well for his prospects.

"Being in and out of the side never helps," he said. "But it is part of the game and you learn that when you do get your chance, you have to make sure you cash in big." All indications are that there should be many more chances in 1995.

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