Gale-force steve on brink of record
Dan Whiting talks to the Hertfordshire batsman who has been shining in Minor Counties game
When I was young I was a compulsive puller and kept getting out but I was told to keep playing that way
Hertfordshire opening batsman Steve Gale embarks on a potential record breaking match this weekend as Hertfordshire take on Lincolnshire in the Minor Counties Championship at Cleethorpes.
With Lincolnshire needing only bonus points to secure the Eastern Division, Gale has been tearing up the record books all year and in what promises to be a fantastic advert for Minor Counties cricket, in front of what should be a decent attendance at the seaside resort.
Gale’s blistering form has seen him break the record for the amount of runs for Hertfordshire with 1,023 at an average of a shade over 63, beating the record set by David Ward in 2000. With a one-day score of 143 against Wiltshire to add to his four hundreds including a fine double hundred against Norfolk, no Hertfordshire batsman has scored more hundreds in a season.
If Gale, 29, gets a fifth, it will put him above PGT Kingsley in 1929, F De Saram in 1935, T Tyrwhitt-Davies in 1953 and Ward himself in 2000.
Gale said: “It’s good to get a thousand Minor Counties runs and means a lot to me personally. Having played for Herts when I was young, it is nice to get to an age now where you can dominate. To go past a player like Wardy, who scored a lot for Surrey, is a proud moment,” before joking: “I’ll have to enjoy it whilst it lasts because I am not sure I’ll score this amount in one year again! I’ve had a bit of a purple patch.”
Some of Gale’s innings have been a joy to watch for the Hertfordshire following. His 227 versus Norfolk on his old club ground at Balls Park in Hertford was full of crisp cover drives while being quick to latch on to the short ball has made him one of the most difficult players to bowl at in the Championship.
He added: “When I was young I was a compulsive puller and kept getting out but I was told to keep playing that way. It was David Ward who said, ‘keep playing the pull shot but develop shots off the front and back foot so the bowlers have to work out how to bowl to you’.”
Gale’s aggressive approach is certainly leaving the bowling attacks of the Minor Counties, let alone the statisticians, scratching their heads.
His 227 in June was the fourth highest Minor Counties Championship score although another Hertfordshire batsman, Eddie Ballard holds the record with 248 three years ago.
It isn’t just Gale who has been a success story for Hertfordshire this year though. His opening partner and good friend Jamie Southgate has also been in decent form and Gale said: “It helps batting with a mate and has helped build confidence for the season.” An average opening partnership of 107 in the one-day competition was a testament to that. Reece Hussain, nephew of ex-England captain Nasser, is another promising player and was the youngest captain of the county.
Add to the mix Ben Waring with 46 wickets and Luke Chapman, Gale’s clubmate at Potters Bar CC who are both going to represent the Unicorns versus the MCC in Torquay later this month, and the future looks very bright for this small county.
The Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League is the breeding ground for this talent and having provided the England team with the likes of Steven Finn from Langleybury and Monty Panesar from Luton Town and Indians, the talent pipeline is flowing nicely. Gale, having played for Hatfield CC from the age of 13 in the competition is another one off the production line having scored over 1,000 runs in the Premier League last year, along with ex-England batsman Owais Shah and Ballard.
When asked which was the favourite of his hundreds this year, Gale said: “I’ve enjoyed them all. The 154 at Copdock in front of a partisan Suffolk crowd there to match Jaik Mickelburgh was very enjoyable but so was the 119 on a difficult wicket at Long Marston versus Cambridgeshire.
“Saying that, I still enjoyed the 127 at a beautiful ground at Checkley last week versus Staffordshire, so they have all been fairly enjoyable. Saying that after that 127, I feathered one behind second ball for nought in club cricket, so cricket is a great leveller. This game certainly brings you back down to earth.”
So the question on the lips of most cricketing writers is how strong is Minor Counties cricket? I put this to Gale and asked him how it compared to 2nd XI county cricket. He said: “It’s difficult to tell but you obviously talk to the umpires as they officiate in both formats. They seem to think it is more competitive and on occasions, it can be stronger. Lincolnshire next week will have both Carters, who played at Derbyshire and Suffolk had Jaik Mickelburgh so there are plenty of exprofessional players around on the circuit. It depends on who is available really – I’m self-employed so it helps.”
“I’d recommend Minor Counties cricket to any young player, though. It’s good fun, you play on great grounds and for anyone coming through it is a fantastic experience. I’m 29 and know my game inside out but it was Minor Counties that gave me the confidence to step out. A batsman should be at his peak between 28 and 32, so it is a great education for a young player.”
That education has certainly come to fruition now as Gale has graduated with first-class honours in the Minor Counties game. Hertfordshire have had a very good season with a semi-final place in the one-day competition only to be beaten by Lincolnshire and they are still in the mix for the Championship with the final game starting this Sunday; an away fixture against their nemesis.
The unlikely venue of Cleethorpes could be the arena of record breakers.
Running into hundreds: Steve Gale plays the ball into the off-side. Inset: with opening partner Jamie Southgate
Good form: Jamie Southgate