Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Corky the legend
In our small but beautiful world of cricket, many cricketers have been loved and feted for their ability to enchant the fans with their cricketing abilities. We can think of cricketers, who have been admired for their sheer grace and elegance, but there are also cricketers, who may not have truckloads of talent, but for their sheer competitive spirit and never say die attitude, have gained the respect of their teammates, opposition and of course, the fans.
If I think of Cork, it is clear that he falls in the second category of cricketers. He may not be as talented as some of the other cricketers going around, but more than makes it up with his sheer competitive spirit. He has always come across as a in your face character, who won't give an inch to the opposition batsmen. If a team is in crisis, Cork is your man as he has a great attitude.
Cork's early career
If I have to track Cork's career, I have to go as far back as 1993. It was a bad time for English cricket as Australia were crushing England in the Ashes, but it was also the time, when a young cricketer called Cork was starting to make his mark as a cricketer. Cork had already shown plenty of promise as a under 19 cricketer and bowled a few good spells in one-day matches against Pakistan in 92, but that game against Lancs made everyone sit up and take up notice of him. Lancs had a star studded line-up and were expected to romp home against the un-fancied Derbyshire side, but the man from Staffordshire had other ideas. He came into bat at 66 for 4 and scored 92 not out to take Derbyshire to 252. People who have seen that match still talk about the leg side flick he played against the all time great bowler Akram. Cork wasn't finished yet, as he came back to take crucial wickets in the end overs to help Derby win by a narrow margin of six runs. His great all round performance came at Lord's, which is a key point to note as over the years, he would come up with outstanding performances with both bat and ball at the hallowed turf.
His next great test was a tour to India with the A team. Now, the pitches in India can cause heartbreaks to fast bowlers as usually one won't even find a blade of grass in India. So, it was a litmus test for England's young quicks, but both Cork and his teammate Chapple passed it with flying colours. Actually, when England's squad was again ravaged by injuries in Australia in 94/95, there were rumours that either Chapple, or Cork would be on the next plane to Australia, but it didn't happen as neither of them were called up to join the squad.
Cork makes a spectacular test debut
Cork finally made his test debut in 95 against Windies at guess what, his favourite ground Lord's. He had a ordinary start to his test career by just taking one wicket in the first innings, but in the second innings, he came alive as Cork scythed through the formidable Windies batting line-up consisting of Lara, Adams, Hooper and Richardson by getting late swing to help England win the match. He ended with superb figures of 7-43. I maybe wrong on this, but I vaguely remember Cork saying that he was worried about his baby as his mother in law had said that every-time he would take a wicket, she would throw his baby in the air and catch him. Hmm! so she must have thrown that baby in the air eight times as he took eight wickets in the match! He followed it up with a superb performance at Old Trafford as he took a hat-trick. So, from nowhere Cork became a star and he was suddenly expected to lead the attack on England's next tour to South Africa.
Cork leading the attack
Now South Africa in the 90's were a tough unit, especially at home and only Australia were able to defeat them. So, chances of England winning the series looked slim yet, after a few encouraging results against the Windies, England were expected to put up a bit of resistance. In fact, England gave the Saffers a run for their money what with Atherton playing a great knock at Wanderers to help England escape from what seemed like a certain defeat. After playing out four consecutive draws, a lot was expected from both teams in the last test at Capetown as that was the last chance for both teams to get a result. I can never remember England having a good result against South Africa at Capetown, but thanks to our man Cork, England were in the hunt as he took a five wicket haul in the first innings, but the inability to crack the code of how to get the rabbit Paul Adams out and the inability of the batsmen to handle the pressure for the umpteenth time meant that series was gifted to South Africa. Cork had a good series with the ball, though at the end of the tour, he looked jaded.
Cork being dropped and his comeback
As the home season came around, Cork was expected to thrive in conditions that helps swing bowlers, but leaving a few decent performances like at Edgbaston against India and against Pakistan at Headingley, Cork looked well short of his best. He missed the subsequent tour of Zimbabwe, but returned back for the tour of Kiwiland. Again a lot was expected from Cork as the conditions in New Zealand are good for swing bowlers, but things didn't go according to plan as Cork struggled. Caddick and Gough clearly overshadowed Cork and Geoffrey Boycott unfairly described Cork as a show pony. Cork though can't be criticized for lack of effort, as in the final test, he played a crucial innings and helped Atherton to thwart the threat of a young and bespectacled spinner making his debut called Vettori. Cork showed to everyone including Boycott that if not with the ball, he can still come up with crucial knocks as a batsman.
The next series England played was the most crucial series for every English cricketer and that was of course the Ashes. Cork though, was beset by injuries and personal problems and faded away from the scene. England gave a bit of fight, but in the end, it was yet another Ashes series in which England came second best. Cork though isn't someone, who would give it up so easily. So, it wasn't a huge surprise that he forced his way back into the side against the marauding Saffers in 98. It was clearly evident that he no more could get it to swing late yet, was able to get crucial wickets. For me, his greatest contribution of that series wasn't his six wicket haul at Lord's, but the 24 runs he scored in the final test at Headingley. Yes, I am talking about mere 24 runs, but as it is said that sometimes cricket is more than just numbers and that is what can be said about those 24 runs. After a good start, England were as expected falling like a pack of cards, but in came Cork and defended as though his life depended on it and helped England to a score of around 250. Guess what, South Africa lost the match by 23 runs!
Cork fades away from the scene
Cork was disappointing during the subsequent tour of Australia as he tried to bowl like Holding and ended up bowling all over the place. It just shows that too much aggression won't work. Anyway, coming back to our man Cork, he faded away from the scene, though I still believe that Cork, Caddick and White should have played in the 99 world cup as the conditions in May and June would always help swing bowlers, but those were the dark days of English cricket and the management used to make a mess of what seemed like even simple decisions. In the world cup, England were shown the exit door by India in the first round itself and even lost a series against a very average side like the Kiwis, which even made the media to come up with a headline called death of English cricket.
Renaissance of English cricket and Cork answers his critics
At the dawn of the new century, there seemed to be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel as the hard-nosed coach Fletcher teamed up with Hussain. It wasn't a huge surprise that they soon recalled our legend Cork as they wanted players, who have a never say die attitude. Former players like Botham and Wills started shouting on roof-tops about Corky being a spent force and all that, but Fletcher had made up his mind that Cork would play the second test against West Indies at Lord's. Going into the match, England were in a bit of strife as the Windies had won the first test comfortably and the doomsayers were again predicting a 5-0 whitewash for England. Cork changed it all, as first with the ball in hand, he got quick wickets at a time, when Windies seemed to be running away with the contest. It was a sight to see Corky bowling bouncers at that giant Ambrose and giving him a mouthful!
Cork's biggest contribution of the match though, came with the bat in the second innings. England were set a target of less than 200 runs, but after a good start given by Atherton and Vaughan, England seemed to be hurtling towards another defeat as both Curtly and Courtney again started to rip though England's line-up. When England lost eight wickets the situation looked grim, but with Cork around, there was still some hope as he was playing on his favourite ground, the Lord's. At the other end, stood good old Goughie and everyone knew that Goughie was always prone to trying a slog and gifting his wicket away, but every-time, he would try a fancy shot, Cork would give him a stare which could even make the The Undertaker tremble! It seemed like a partnership between a strict headmaster and a naughty student, who was forced to obey the orders of the headmaster at the other end. Once Cork got himself in, he started to play a few shots and took a heavy toll on the inexperienced seamer Rose by lofting him for a four and a six. Slowly but surely, England edged closer to the target and finally won the match with both Gough and Cork remaining not out. Corky and Goughie were jumping in joy and it even looked like Corky pointed his bat towards the commentary box to show that he has let the bat to do the talking, though afterwards, Corky said that he was pointing the bat towards his girlfriend, but I won't believe it lol.
The final chapter of Cork's international career
After Cork performed a stellar role with both the bat and ball to help England regain the Wisden trophy after about 30 years a lot was expected from him, when they toured Pakistan in 2000/01, but disaster struck for Corky as he was troubled by a back injury and had to return back home. He came back to play against the mighty Aussies in 01, but now Cork looked a pale shadow of his former self. Yes, Cork wasn't short of competitive spirit as he would keep bowling bouncers, however harmless it may seem, but his career as a international cricketer was no doubt coming to an end. Cork played his last international match in the Champions trophy in Lanka in 02. As usual, he tried his best, but when you are up against a batsman called Viru and that too with him smashing everyone to all corners of the ground, it would be better to wear a helmet and escape from the ground. As the match ended, one could see that Cork was dejected. With England looking at younger bowlers like Hoggy, Jones, Harmison and company, his chances of touring Australia, or playing again for England was over.
Cork playing for Lancashire and Hampshire
Yes, his career as a international player had ended, but unlike many other international cricketers, Cork decided to continue playing first class cricket. He signed for a big club like Lancashire in 2004 and big things were expected from a talisman like Cork. He was a touch inconsistent as a player, though it was Cork, who helped Lancashire to comeback to first division in 06. One can't forget his nerveless performance as a batsman at his favourite ground, Lord's in the C and G final against Sussex, when he almost took Lancs to a victory, or even in 07, when the heroics of Very Very Special Laxman and Cork himself helped Lancs to get close to a mammoth target set by Surrey, but just like before, it was yet again a case of being so close yet so far for Lancs. The loss meant that for the umpteenth time, Lancs couldn't win CC!
At the end of 2008 season, Lancashire decided to not renew Cork's contract and as expected, Lancashire's players like Freddie and Law were angry with that decision. Lancashire's loss meant Hampshire's gain as they signed him for the 2009 season. Cricketers like Cork can't just be judged by averages, but with their great attitude, they lift the spirits of the entire team. Hampshire desperately wanted a charismatic player as Warne had announced that he won't return back to Hampshire and in Cork, they found one. Cork did what was expected from him as with his inspirational bowling performance helped Hampshire to win the FP 50 over trophy by taking four wickets. This year he has again been phenomenal for Hampshire. In the absence of key players including their regular captain Mascarenhas, he has led the side rather well and just a couple of days ago, Cork helped Hampshire to win the FP 20/20 trophy. It turned out to be a nail biting, edge of the seat contest with both Somerset and Hampshire scoring the same number of runs, but the title went to Hampshire as they lost fewer wickets. Cork did his bit by taking two wickets and at the age of 39, he showed that he is no slouch by sending the dangerous Pollard to the hospital with a bouncer. He captained the young charges superbly too as Hampshire deservedly lifted the trophy.
Wes on her blog about Cork,
"Cork, who I usually just call "Corker", is a phenomenon. You could put a concrete block in front of his nose and he would get his teeth right in (Kieron Pollard will confirm)"
The simple fact is, you love him or hate him, one thing is for sure that even if he is injured, Cork would be ready to play the game and give everything he has. I have seen speculation about his future, but Cork seems to be in no mood to hang up his boots and would likely play the next season. I do hope he continues to play for the next few years as County Cricket needs characters like Corky. In fact, I just can't imagine County Cricket being played without our good old Corky!