After another week of action in both the LV= County Championship and Clydesdale Bank 40 competitions, it is time to pick the Cricket World County Player of the Week. There are, once again, several contenders for this week’s award, with 11 centuries and seven five-wicket hauls taken in county cricket over the past seven days.
Ned Eckersley (137 not out against Glamorgan); Joe Root (125 against Northamptonshire); Ben Stokes (121 against Lancashire); Chris Rushworth (five for 31 against Nottinghamshire); and Nick Compton, who finally brought up 1000 first-class runs, albeit a day late to do so before the end of May, with an innings of 108 against Worcestershire are all contenders for this week’s award.
However, there are really only three main contenders. James Taylor hit a in a televised CB40 match against Hampshire on Thursday, hitting seven sixes in his 77-ball innings, while Graham Onions single-handedly carried Durham’s victory push against Lancashire, ending with , as the home side almost recovered from their abysmal first innings total of 102 to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, only to be thwarted at the eleventh hour by Ajmal Shahzad and Kyle Hogg.
It is Michael Thornely, though, who is this week’s winner. The 24 year-old hit in their match against Glamorgan at Cardiff, despite only being on trial with the Foxes. He recovered from the disappointment of falling for 97 in the first innings to hit a calm 131 – his maiden first-class century – in the visitors second, as they comfortably escaped with a draw on the final day after surrendering a 287-run first innings deficit.
His story is one of the heart-warming kind in which county cricket seems to specialise. Released by Sussex at the end of the 2010, following a disappointing first-class season during which he averaged less than 24 from 12 matches, Thornely appeared to have drifted out of the county game for good at the age of 22. However, he showed his determination to continue a career that had shown promise as early as in 2003 when he represented Sussex Under-15s, and led to him finishing as the highest run-scorer for Sussex Second XI in 2007, by playing for as many as three different county second elevens during 2011 – he averaged over 45 for Somerset’s – as well as representing the Unicorns – all ultimately to no avail.
Undeterred, he took himself off to Zimbabwe during the close season, and displayed the resolve, which he would later display for Leicestershire, at the top of the Mashonaland Eagles’ batting line-up. He didn’t set the stage alight, averaging on 25 from six innings, but he did spend valuable time in the middle, passing 30 in four of those innings, and learnt a lot that was soon to prove very valuable.
Nonetheless, another frustrating summer for the Unicorns and in league cricket beckoned when he returned to the UK; and he began the season badly – making just 46 runs in his first four innings for the Unicorns, as well as putting in some unimpressive performances for Leicestershire Second XI – before everything changed at Hinckley on a couple of days at the end of May. He made 56 in Leicestershire seconds’ first innings, but what was to follow in the second would set up a remarkable week.
Thornely led the home side’s fourth innings run chase of 263 from 81 overs with an , before falling valiantly from the penultimate ball, going for the winning hit, to a spectacular catch on the long-on boundary. The match eventually ended in a draw, with Leicestershire on 260 for nine, but Thornely had made his mark.
Three days later he was named in Leicestershire’s first-team squad for their match at Cardiff, after injuries to regular openers Matt Boyce and Will Jefferson opened up a vacancy at the top of the order. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Londoner batted for twelve hours in the match – a club record for a debutant – and said of his rapid ascent to the county’s first eleven, “I wouldn’t have thought I’d have a game like that straightaway, but I had a good game in the second team the week before where I spent a lot of time in the middle, which gave me confidence.”
He went on to speak of his desire to earn a full Leicestershire contract, but, after last season, was mindful of what can happen when you look too far ahead, saying, “I was in the same situation last season in looking to get an opportunity somewhere, and sometimes you can put yourself under a lot of pressure. You have to put it all to the back of your mind. To get an opportunity was great and I went in with the perception that I had nothing to lose. I wanted to go out there and enjoy it and it was a pretty good result for me.”
© Cricket World 2012