Gale-force steve on brink of record

Dan Whit­ing talks to the Hert­ford­shire bats­man who has been shin­ing in Mi­nor Coun­ties game

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

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

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