Thursday, 31 May 2012

The King of Herts

At The Middle Stump, we are interested in all types of cricket, not just the professional game, but our recent article on players getting paid concentrated on club cricket. Here we catch up with one of the stalwarts of the Minor Counties game, Hertfordshire captain Andy Lewis.

If you ever fancy watching a Minor Counties game, we'd really recommend it. The standard is excellent and seeing two teams, just below the first class standard is well worth a few hours of your time. It's not just about England you know? We spoke with Andy about Hertfordshire's trip to Lord's last year, and about the young talent in the game. Andy was the first man to take Hertfordshire to headquarters in nineteen years, and although they lost, it was a fantastic occasion for all concerned.

TMS: Andy, thanks for agreeing to speak with such a classy act as The Middle Stump. I see you loved our ugly XI?

AL: Yes very good, there is some talent in that team too. Having played with Wardy for a number of seasons I can tell you there aren't any more genuinely nice blokes than him, a serious cricketer in his time and a legend of a bloke off the field too!

TMS: How's this year going?

AL: Well the weather hasn't helped one bit. We lost 2 of our 4 group matches to rain, then beat Oxfordshire in a nail biter of a game by 3 runs, and then we lost off the penultimate ball to Cornwall the week after. So its evident that we play exciting cricket, but very disappointing to not get through to the next stages, when some sides have managed to get through by the fact that they had 3 games rained off and picked up the extra point, still I mustn't  be bitter! We have learned a lot and seen some new faces play for the side and this is a good omen for the future.

We start our three day campaign against Bedforshire at Bishops Stortford CC and I hope that we can start with a win. Again we field a pretty young looking side and it will be exciting for me to see how they perform in this longer format of the game.

TMS: Last year must have been great with playing at Lord's? What was the day like?

AL: Fantastic. We were lucky to have the ground to train on the day before which we did in beautiful sunshine. It was a little surreal if anything, as normally when I'm at Lords its packed full of people, busy with food stalls and bars overflowing. But for us it was quiet, empty and being shared by only two squads of players, its a day I wont forget. We were brilliantly looked after and had everything we could have asked for made available to us. 

The actually playing day was a little different, persistent rain overnight,and in the morning, meant that the game had to be reduced to 36 overs, and unfortunately there was a wet patch on the wicket ( I know thats not supposed to happen at Lords!!!) so both skippers wanted to bowl to see how it would play. Alas we lost the toss and when we batted first we didnt use the overs wisely enough and posted a below par score, which Berkshire were able to chase down with relative ease. We were well supported and everyone associated with Herts Cricket did have a great day out at the Home of Cricket, and it is one no one will forget as it had been 19 years since Herts had reached this stage of the competition.

Lewis became the first man to take Herts to Lord's in nineteen years

TMS: Who are the guys to look out for at Herts? Any Unicorns players?

AL: I don't really like singling players out as we have a great squad who are hugely talented.

TMS: What do you think of the shop window of the Unicorns?

AL: I think its a great option for players that want to showcase at the highest level and try and pick up a contract with the full counties. There have already been some success stories through the Unicorns as you know. So I agree with it as a good place for players to strive to get into and then to hopefully get signed up.

TMS: Ever played pro cricket yourself?

AL: Middlesex 2's very very briefly

TMS: Is Minor Counties full of ex pros or are there some good youngsters coming through?

AL: There is definitely a blend. There are loads of talented youngsters on the circuit and we have a number in our squad, some of which could go on and make it if they find their cricket brains quickly, buckle down and start to do the hard work required. Because of the ruling that you can only have one player that has played more than 40 1st class matches this tends to limit the number of ex pros on the circuit, or ex pros that everyone has heard of anyway!

TMS: What's your favourite ground?

AL: Has to be Lords, although my record there is poor !

TMS: How do you get time off work? We spoke to Paul McMahon at Cambridgeshire and he'd taken 66 days off to play cricket!!

AL: Yes its a struggle, so I have to take holiday from work. The 3 day comp takes up 12 days holiday each year, but I'm lucky that we can buy additional holiday at work, so there is still a few days left over for the family. If you multiple the number of years I've been playing by the number of days holiday needed each year, then you get to a bigger number than Macca!

TMS: As you know we love cricket banter here at The Middle Stump. What is the banter like in Minor Counties?

AL: Well there is certainly plenty of it. I think cricket banter is pretty much the same wherever you play. Its good fun, sometimes a little personal but pretty much always taken in the right way. We have had some pretty tough fought matches against other Minor Counties in my time in charge, but pretty much all have ended with a handshake and a few beers in a nightclub, or two….

David Ward...a legend of a bloke

TMS: That's what we like to hear! We both play in the Herts League. Is it a good education for players to play a higher standard?

AL: Yes I think it is. The Hertfordshire League set up is now very strong, with 6 of the sides in the Home Counties Premiership now coming from Herts clubs. This can only mean that we are doing something right across the county. Again there are now a number of ex pros in this league and playing with or against those that have done it as a job has to be a good thing for bringing young players on, that is as long as they listen and don't believe that they know it all already. 

TMS: Well it has produced Steve Finn and Monty Panesar amongst others, so must be doing something right. Are you a fan of Premier League cricket?

Finn and Panesar...both products of the Herts League

AL: I am a cricketer at heart, so yes, but then if you ask around the circuit you may get a different answer. I don't get to play that much league cricket these days as I have a demanding job, I have a wonderful family and I'm captain of Hertfordshire, all of which take time away from me playing every Saturday for my club.

TMS: You don't think it excludes the older player with kids? Divorce rates in cricket are high enough!!!

AL: No, not necessarily, most of the older players were cricketers before they were husbands or fathers etc. I think it takes a certain type of relationship to understand the cricketer mind set and these are normally flushed out quite early on. It either works or it doesn't at the end of the day.

TMS: What games have you got coming up and where?

AL: v Bedfordshire @ Bishops Stortford CC 10 -12 June (11am Start)
v Buckinghamshire @ Gerrard's Cross CC 24 - 26 June (11 am Start)
v Suffolk @ Long Marston CC 8 - 10 July (11 am Start)
v Northumberland @ Hertford CC CC 22 - 24 July (11am Start)
v Norfolk @ Horsford CC 5th - 7th August (11am Start)
v Cumberland @ Sedburgh School 19 - 21 August (11 am start)

TMS: If any of our fans live near these venues, then get your arses down and support your local Minor County!

TMS: Why should people go and watch Minor Counties cricket?

AL: Its a good standard, generally pretty exciting, both sides wanting to win and you could just be watching a future professional.

TMS: Andy, it's been an absolute pleasure. Anything else to add?

AL: Keep up the good work with The Middle Stump, its had a great start and I think its got a great future.

TMS: Best of luck this year to you and to all the Herts boys!

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