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Brief profile of Dominic Cork
by Matthew Reed


Player:DG Cork

DateLine: 8th December 2005

 

Both on and off the field, Dominic Cork has been one of the most controversial cricketers of his generation. His taste for a scrap, and a liking for his own way, has at times made him tactless and unendearing, although the flip side of that has been a cricketer for whom the big occasion has frequently produced a big performance, and who has perhaps been the best, post-Botham English cricketer at grabbing a match by the throat and bending the result to his will.

 

A wicket in his maiden First-class over (against the 1990 New Zealand tourists) may have passed relatively unnoticed at the time, but it was a sign of things to come. He celebrated his twentieth birthday by taking 8-53 (before lunch) against Essex in August 1991. His ODI debut against Pakistan in 1992 (after just two full seasons) saw an excellent spell of controlled bowling against a World Cup winning team crammed full of batting. Although barely out of his cricketing nappies, Cork had found how to bowl lavish outswing at good pace with excellent control of line and length. A century as night-watchman in a Youth Test in 1990 had given evidence that he may later apply for all-rounder status, and Cork’s innings of 92* against a formidable Lancashire outfit in the Benson & Hedges Final in 1993 was typical Cork. After a top order collapse, his resurrection of his team’s fortunes, through bloody minded self belief and shots so outrageous that they’d have shamed a benefit match was ultimately a match winner. One leg flick off a Wasim Akram delivery outside off-stump was one of the most memorable Lords moments of the 1990’s (though Cork himself would later provide more), and that shot, in it’s humbling of an all-time great, had more than a little symbolic importance for a Derbyshire side massively unfancied to beat the finely tuned Red Rose limited-overs machine. His 9-43 against Northamptonshire in June 1995 would have been better but for Colin Wells grounding Russell Warren in the slips (when Cork already had nine), although despite another four wickets for Cork in the second innings Derbyshire lost that match. However, any disappointment Cork felt at missing 10 wickets or in losing was quickly assuaged, as within a fortnight Cork was making his Test debut.

 

A pugnacious 30 in the English first innings got him into the match, although the sole scalp of former Derbyshire team-mate Ian Bishop was a teasing understatement for what was to follow. Chasing a manageable 296 to win, the West Indies were well set at 124-2, until Cork delivered analysis of 7-43 in moving and swinging the tourists to defeat. Two Tests later, a first over hat trick on the Sunday morning was the first in Test history, and caused all late arrivers to curse their misfortune. With a devastated middle order, the tourists could set England only 93 to win, and Cork had again seemingly produced cricketing magic just through wanting it. An undefeated 56* in England’s first innings (coupled with his ability to create the impossible) saddled Cork with the most unwanted tag in English cricket in the last 15 years, namely that of “the new Botham”, a description which had done the careers of David Capel and Chris Lewis little benefit. In the process of his maiden Test fifty Cork had dislodged a bail while running between the wickets. His quiet replacing of it, (with a matter of fact demeanour throughout) demonstrated his fierce desire to win, but also gave the first piece of ammunition to a press which couldn’t possibly allow the page filling Cork (with his exorbitant success and good looks) to remain a darling forever. Despite a personally successful tour of South Africa, and some solid bowling performances in England’s failed attempts to postulate a winning formula in the 1995/6 World Cup, the late 1990’s weren’t kind to Cork. Wickets costing 36 each against Pakistan and India in their 1996 English tours was not what was expected, and the breakdown of his marriage understandably had a massive effect on his cricket. He later admitted that in the tour to New Zealand in 1996-7 he was running in with no idea or thought given to what delivery he was going to bowl. With this in mind, it is to his credit that he managed to put on a match and series winning partnership of 76 with John Crawley (after England had just lost three wickets for 5 runs, and with Cork playing in a highly untypical nurdling and blocking manner) to see England home in the Third Test. A groin injury in the first Championship match of 1997 ruined his season and prevented him form joining the Ashes fray. When Cork did make his Ashes debut (in Australia in 1998-9), he made such a low impact that he slipped off the international radar to such an extent that he didn’t even feature in England’s 30 man preliminary squad for the 1999 World Cup. Somewhere amidst all his injuries and personal problems, Cork had misplaced his outswinger and couldn’t re-find it. With that delivery had gone a large amount of wicket taking potency, and without that skill suddenly all the glares, sledges and bouncers simply seemed quixotic.

 

Redemption came in 2000, when a slowly and tentatively improving England met a West Indian team who still contained phenomenally gifted players despite being in serious decline. Cork is still vividly remembered for dragging England away from the abyss of a 2-0 deficit. Having lost the First Test, and trailing smoke on 149-7 (needing 188 to win), England had been frazzled on a typically receptive Lords pitch in the Second Test by the seemingly embalmed skills of Courtney Walsh and the merciless accuracy of Curtly Ambrose (who bowled 22 overs for 22 runs). Cork scampered singles like a dog running on a beach, and his boundaries were all we had come to expect from Cork, with a lofted, theatrical lofted drive off Walsh and a vehemently pulled six of Franklyn Rose. With the result imminent, but impossible to predict, it was cricket at its best, and of course Cork at his best. Perhaps most remarkable was how Cork seemed to have everything so under control that he persuaded Darren Gough to just block and leave, rather than to engage in his usual mix of optimistic (but poorly executed) thumps. England triumphed just before 7pm on the Saturday. Cork is rightly remembered for his essential and nerveless contribution with the bat at Lords, although there’s no doubt that his phenomenal contribution with the ball (20 wickets at 12.25) has been overlooked. Just when it looked like Cork was back to stay, his winter of 2000-1 was ruined by a back injury in Pakistan, which prevented him playing in anything other than a warm-up. He played six more Tests across the summers of 2001 and 2002, where Cork seemed to return to his late 1990’s of persona of being an outswingerless bowler who was reduced to frustrated sledges and the bowling of meaningless, sky high bouncers.

 

Cork had ascended to the captaincy of Derbyshire in 1998, and his early seasons in charge brought enthusiasm and purpose to a county still recovering from the resignation of Dean Jones in 1997. Despite securing the top half finish which guaranteed First Division Championship cricket in 2000, five key players left at the end of the 1999 season. While there were varying reasons for these departures, Ian Blackwell (one of the departed five) spoke afterwards of how Cork had allowed a negative, cliquey dressing room atmosphere to emerge. When Cork publicly and specifically announced that four of his players in his squad for the 1999 season were unwanted by him, it was hardly Brearley-esque man management. This came after Cork had demanded, and eventually won, full and exclusive input into all team matters. Despite his deserved granting of a benefit by Derbyshire in 2001, that only served to create more trouble, as some of his events were wilfully boycotted by the committee. Despite his signing of a three year contract in June 2003, within three months Cork was on his way out, after incoming Director of Cricket David Houghton refused to confirm Cork as captain for 2004. This had a predictable response, as Cork’s third request to leave Derbyshire was accepted by a committee tired of a saga which never seemed to end.

 

His move to Lancashire for 2004 was seen by some as being the final piece in the jigsaw for the Red Rose County. However, Lancashire’s long wait for the Championship title has continued to elude them, although Cork has continued to show he is one of the most talented and ferociously competitive all-rounders in the county game. With a consistently successful England team, it is unlikely that Cork will play for England again. Although injuries to both of them prevented the anticipated Cork/Gough new ball axis developing for England, Cork is often left unmentioned by commentators who rush to applaud Gough and Andrew Caddick for their efforts in the hard years of the 1990’s. This is unfair, as Cork’s all-round record is better than these two, and he arguably gave the game more indelible moments. It is inescapable that the personality traits which have made Cork unpopular or difficult in certain quarters are also those that have helped propel him to his achievements in the game. Indeed, before his Test debut in 1995, Mike Atherton positively encouraged him to irritate and annoy the West Indians as much as he did the county cricketers he faced. Whatever one thinks of Cork the man or Cork the cricketer, it is impossible to deny that in a tight spot, supporters, players and captains would always want him on their side rather than the opposition.

 

December 2005

(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)

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