This month we are delighted to be speaking to one of England’s leading bowlers, (and all-rounders), of the 1990s, former Derbyshire, Lancashire and Hampshire spearhead, Dominic Cork.
Whenever Corky’s name comes up in pub conversations around the world, three highlights always get re-told: his 7/43 on Test debut, that memorable hat-trick at Old Trafford and that batting partnership with Darren Gough against the West Indies in 2000. We’ll cover off all of those highlights (and some of the lowlights) here, through to his time now coaching and commentating.
But as with all of our interviews, let’s go back to the beginning, and where it all began for Dominic G. Cork. “Well, the big hero for me growing up was always Ian Botham. I’ve said that for a long time. I was 10 years old in 1981 and I remember being on holiday with my family and sitting there thinking he was the kind of cricketer I wanted to be. He was the one player that really captured me with what he could do on a cricket field and how he just lit it up. I loved the way he enjoyed the competition against whoever he was playing against.”
“At school I wanted to do everything, including wicket-keep at times! I was school captain, and I think looking back it was that attitude of wanting to do everything that made me want to be an all-rounder like Botham; although for me more of a bowler than a batter, but I knew I wanted to be involved in all aspects of the game all of the time.”
So, the inevitable question, what was the great Dominic Cork’s wicket-keeping skills, like? Russellesque? “They were ok! I actually had to take over once from Luke Sutton in a Twenty20 game. To be honest, I fielded in the slips for a lot of my career and it’s actually quite similar, it just doesn’t hurt as much because you have gloves on!”
Outside of school cricket, early club cricket for Dominic can be traced back to Betley Cricket Club, where he played with his two older brothers and his Dad. His first taste of representative cricket came when he was selected for Staffordshire under 15s. “I was probably a late developer in the sense of representative cricket, but I then wrote to a number of counties asking for a trial. My best mate at school told me other kids were writing to Warwickshire asking for a trial. So, I thought why not, and I got invited for a trial when I was 16. My Dad drove me up to Edgbaston and there were 70 or 80 kids there, and out of all them, I was the only one to get selected and asked if I wanted to join them for winter training. It was great. I ended up training with the likes of Gladstone Small and Paul Smith and all of the first-class cricketers. As a 16-year-old, you’re scared stiff, but it was a fantastic introduction into what professional cricket was like.”
Unfortunately, Warwickshire didn’t go on to offer Dominic a full-time contract, but after a successful return to League cricket, Derbyshire soon came knocking.
After signing on as a YTS, on £27.50 a week, Dominic’s performances saw him quickly progress to representative honours with England’s under 19s.
“I initially got selected for a North of England side, when Darren Gough got injured. I did really well and as a side we got through to the final and won it, which got me selection for the under 19s. We toured Australia, which was fantastic. We also played against New Zealand and Pakistan at home. I played with some outstanding cricketers in that team. Mark Ramprakash was skipper, and Nick Knight was in there. I remember scoring a hundred as a nightwatchman in a Test match against Pakistan – it was at Taunton, so I’ll admit it was a flat pitch!”
Dominic’s success at under 19 level, saw him soon make his first XI debut for Derbyshire in a game against the touring New Zealanders. “I came in on a hat-trick ball after Devon Malcolm had got out! Thankfully I survived and with the ball I took a wicket with my 3rd ball, Trevor Franklin.”
I asked Dominic what part, if any, did nerves play in that debut, especially against a touring side? “I won’t say I wasn’t nervous, as I was always nervous throughout my career, but if I felt nervous, it gave me that grit and determination to do well and show people, this is what I’m all about.”
Despite that instant success with the ball, Dominic had to wait until the end of the season to make his Championship debut, in what he describes as a “freezing day” against Leicestershire. “Honestly, it was freezing, and their bowling attack was Chris Lewis, Jonathan Agnew and Peter Willey, which didn’t make it easy. I batted number eleven, again behind Devon Malcolm!”
And what were some of the early highlights at Derby? “Well, we had a fantastic bowling line up. I was part of an 8-man seam attack, which included the likes of Bishop, Malcolm, Mortensen, Base, Jacks, Griffiths, and Warner. As a young bowler I learnt so much. Kim Barnett was captain and he did a lot for my career. He loved having eight players who could bowl as he was always able to make sure everyone was fresh. I remember taking 9 wickets on my 20th birthday against Essex, which was a big highlight for me. And again, if I’m honest, from the moment I received my first professional contract at 18, I never really looked back. I got into the Derbyshire team and stayed there. I never got any serious injuries for 5 or 6 years and eventually I got into the England team in 1992.”
And was England recognition always on the radar at that time? “I’d been on England A tours. I’d been to Australia and the West Indies and I was just starting to ruffle a few feathers. People were starting to say, ‘who’s this guy from Derbyshire’, a so-called ‘unfashionable’ county, i.e. they’d had Devon Malcolm, surely, they have to wait another 30 years to produce an England player… But I didn’t really see it coming. Of course, I wanted it. I was desperate to play for England. When I eventually got picked it was a dream as I played in Ian Botham’s last one-day international. So, I got to play with my hero in his last one-day game for England at Old Trafford against Pakistan. I only played because Chris Lewis had toothache that morning and had to pull out!”
His debut came agonisingly close to matching his first over for Derbyshire. “My third ball was a nick by Amir Sohail to Allan Lamb. Lamby was wearing sunglasses in a cloudy Old Trafford, the ball hit him in the chest and went down! It would have been lovely to have a got a wicket with my third ball on both my Derbyshire and England debuts. I did get a wicket though, Inzaman Ul-haq, LBW; Dickie Bird gave it out and just said to me ‘always remember who gave you, your first one’! We won the game and it was just fantastic to be part of that team, that got so close to winning the World Cup, a few months before.”
A year after that England debut, Dominic began his love affair with Lords – a ground he lists as his most favourite in the world – when he was named man of the match as Derbyshire lifted the Benson & Hedges Cup.
“I love Lords. We beat Leicestershire in the semi-finals and got through to a final against Lancashire, who were one of the leading one-day teams of the 80s and 90s. And there was us, the unfashionable county, up against them. On paper, we were given no chance. I remember getting to the ground early. It was something I did throughout my career. If a game started at 11am, players would typically arrive around 9.30am; I would always be there at 8am. It was just something I did. I liked to be there early, look at the ground, visualise what could happen, etc. We lost the toss and batted first and were 66/4. I remember walking through the Long Room and hearing someone say, “oh, it’s Cork now, he won’t last long” and I remember just thinking to myself, ‘I have no idea who you are, but whoever it was, thank you’ because that just gave me all of the motivation I needed. I ended up 92 not out. We got up to 260 and thanks to a fantastic last over by Frankie Griffiths we went on to win. My abiding memory though, was the Derbyshire fans. We took 50 or 60 coaches down there and all you could hear was Derbyshire fans at the end. It was a special day and an even more special night!”
Over a hundred wickets taken across all formats of the game in 1994, saw Dominic finally get Test match recognition in 1995, and if Carlsberg did debut summers this was most definitely it.
“I started the season off really well with the ball at Derbyshire and I ended up getting picked for the squad at Lords. England had gone 1-0 down at Headingley and Philip DeFreitas got left out. It felt the right time for me. I was bowling well for Derbyshire, I loved playing at Lords, my confidence was high, and my pace was up there, I felt ready.”
And what a debut it was. Dominic took the best bowling figures by any player on debut, 7/43. “The 7 wickets were amazing, as was winning, and the whole furore that went with it, but the one thing I remember was actually when I was batting and walking through the Long Room. Unlike my visit with Derbyshire, I was now being cheered and wished well because the members knew it was my Test debut. Thankfully, I faced Carl Hooper with my first ball, rather than any of the quicks and hit him for four! But the 7 wickets were a dream come true.
I asked Dominic what made Lords so special for him? “It’s the best ground in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to play in all different countries, and this isn’t being biased because I played for England, but the whole history, the quirkiness of the ground, the changing rooms, the Long Room, the slope, the memorabilia as you walk down the steps from the changing rooms; even though there’s bigger stadiums, Lord’s is special.”
24 hours after bowling England to victory in that debut Test, Dominic was pulling on a Derbyshire shirt – an interesting reminder of what cricket was like in that period, pre-central contracts.
“We had a game the following day against Cambridgeshire in the NatWest Trophy. My head was all over the place, with what had happened the day before. So, much so, Kim Barnett told me to make an excuse with the umpire to leave the field. I admit my head had gone, with everything that had gone on the day before.”
Two Test matches later and it was THAT hat-trick.
“It was Sunday morning and the first over of the day. I remember we had a bit of a team talk before we went out to field. Mike Atherton was captain and I think he said, who do we think should open the bowling. And not in a big-headed way, I said I wanted to do it. I wanted to bowl. I wanted to take wickets. I wanted to be involved. I wanted to set the tone. Richie Richardson and Brian Lara were at the crease and I wanted to get one of them out. So, I wanted to take that first over. The first three balls I bowled were useless! The fourth ball was a no-ball, so I still had three balls left. Next ball Richie Richardson tried to pad one up. Then Carl Hooper didn’t come out, Junior Murray did, and I just thought ‘bowl it straight’, because he was always prone to walk across his stumps. First ball it him straight in front. Then out came Carl Hooper, who’d been in the toilet and funnily enough I’d got Carl Hooper out before on a hat-trick ball when he was playing for Kent, so I visualised how I got him out previously. He also was prone to shuffling across all three stumps, so I knew I just had to bowl it straight. The crowd had been slowly building throughout the over (because it was the first one of the day), but by this ball, you could hear everyone and I just kept saying to myself, ‘just bowl it straight’. I did and that was it.”
I asked Dominic if the noise and buzz of the ground when you’re at the top of your mark on a hat-trick ball is easy or difficult to shut out? “I used the crowd to build me up, but when you’re ready at the top of your mark, they go quiet in your head as you’re just focusing on Carl Hooper and the length you want to bowl. And that worked for me.”
Dominic finished that first summer of Test cricket with 26 wickets and close to 200 runs with the bat, as England drew the series 2-2.
His form continued on the winter tour of South Africa as Corky took 19 wickets, no mean feat with the Kookaburra ball.
“It was really good series to be involved in, as we were the first England side to be back since the end of Apartheid. So, there was a lot of focus on us. We met Nelson Mandela, which was obviously a dream come true and he signed autobiographies for us all. Even though we lost the series in the end, mainly because of some ill-discipline by the bowlers in Cape Town, me included, as we couldn’t get Paul Adams out, it was a good series to be involved in. They had a strong side with their fast bowlers and Kirsten and Cronje were strong with the bat. I thought we could have beaten them, with a bit more luck. We had some rain in Durban, where John Crawley got a hundred and it was nip and tuck throughout on who would take the series. For me personally, it was a good series. The ball was swinging, I took wickets and I felt in good rhythm. It was just unfortunate that we didn’t win it.”
Post that series in South Africa and Dominic started to suffer the first major injuries of his career and with that, an inevitable loss of form.
“It wasn’t easy after that South Africa series. I maybe played a few times when I shouldn’t have done. That was my own fault. I should have stuck my hand up, but I was so proud and determined to play for my country. My knee was collapsing, and I was also losing my action; I was getting too close to the stumps and I was losing my swing and then you get dropped. And that’s a horrible feeling. However, I was always of the firm belief, if you get dropped, you can get picked again.”
And picked again he was, and two years later he was involved in that famous home series win against South Africa.
“Again, throughout that series we went toe to toe with them. David Lloyd was now coach and we had a good side. We had a bowling attack of Gough, Caddick, me and White. We had a batting line-up of Athers, Stewie, Thorpe, Hussain and Butcher. We just weren’t consistent enough.”
I asked Dominic what he put that down to? “We probably didn’t have enough camaraderie as a team. We were individuals and that only changed when central contracts came in. I was in that group of players who first got awarded a central contract in 2001, and suddenly you felt part of an England side. If they’d have come in earlier, in the late 80s or early 90s, I think we’d have performed so much stronger against that great Australian side. Yes, they had Warne, McGrath, Waugh, Waugh, Gilchrist etc, but I honestly believe if we’d have had central contracts, we’d have shown sides just how good we could have been. Remember, most of the times in that period you only found out you were in an England side when you switched the radio on. I knew once it got to Crawley and my name wasn’t there, I wasn’t picked. It was so hard for players being in and out of the side. You’d take to the field, not knowing if it was going to be your last game. So, the pressure was always on players and that definitely played a part in us not being as good as we could have been. Central contracts changed that.”
When I reflect on Dominic’s England career, as a fan I always thought it was frustrating that due to injuries (primarily), we never really got the opportunity to see Cork and Gough together have a crack at that famous Australian side, when both were performing at their peak. His approach to the game, paired with Darren Gough’s attitude, could have given us the aggressive approach that the 2005 side had. “I think in total I played five or six Tests against Australia during my career. You want to test yourself against the best. But unfortunately, you never get to choose when you play these sides. I’d love to have played them during that period in 95/96, I was always the type of guy that wanted to be up and, in their faces, but unfortunately that’s sport.”
There was one final hurrah though for Dominic in international cricket and that was in that 2000 series at home to the West Indies. “That was a good series because it was nip and tuck and the West Indies still had a good side. It was the last big series for Walsh and Ambrose together. Lara was captain. It was a series that us as a bowling attack just hit our straps beautifully. Gough and Caddick would open up, myself and Craig White performed in the middle. We beat them inside two days at Headingley but again it was all about Lords. I think it was one of only a handful of times that all four innings were played in the same day. We ended up needing 180 to win and I remember going in and we needed 40 or 50 more and my mindset was just: ‘here we go again, it’s Lord’s its meant to be’. Everybody was nervous. The crowd were nervous. I looked up at the balcony and saw Duncan Fletcher was chewing his nails and then out came Goughy as he normally does, I’d known Darren for years and I remember him walking out, I’m trying to be serious, thinking we now only need 25 or 30 to win and he just looked up at me and said: “eye up lad, just think how famous we’ll be when we get these runs.” That was Darren all over, he’d say stupid things that’d just take the pressure off. We got over the line and it was a great occasion.”
After that series, Dominic’s appearances for England was the odd Test here and there, and I asked him, if he knew his international time was coming to a close? “If I’m honest, I didn’t think so. Obviously certain bowlers were coming into the team, like Matthew Hoggard, who did a similar job to me, so the competition was there. But I’ve still never retired! I played in the Champions Trophy in 2002 in Sri Lanka, which proved to be my last game for England. We played against India in Colombo when we got 280 odd. Ian Blackwell got sixty odd. It was so hot, and we thought we’d got a good competitive total until Sehwag came out, and he, Tendulkar and Ganguly racked up 278 off 30 overs needing 6 to win off 20 overs, when Nasser gave me the call to get loose! My last ball in international cricket was hit by Ganguly into Colombo city centre for six! Obviously, I didn’t know it was going to be my last game. I did get brought back into the odd squad here and there as cover, but I never played and that was it.”
Back in county cricket, after a period of skippering Derbyshire, Dominic moved on to Lancashire. “I never really wanted to be captain, but I was asked, and I thought why not. I’d played under Kim Barnett for a long time, I’d played under Gooch, Atherton, Stewart and Hussain so I thought I’d give it a go. I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy what it entailed off the field, such as committee meetings and upsetting players when they get left out. But we reached a final against Lancashire but this time we lost at Lords. And of course, it was Lancashire where I moved on to.”
And why the red rose of Lancashire? “I received a few offers. Yorkshire, Lancashire and Warwickshire and eventually I decided on Lancashire. I just looked at their squad and thought they’ve got to win things. They had the likes of Lloyd, Sutcliffe, Chilton, Law, Flintoff, Murali, Chappell, Martin, they’ve got to win things. It felt like the right move to make.”
And how did he get on? “We got relegated!! We did well in T20s though. We got to a couple of finals days but lost out in finals and semi-finals. We massively under-performed as a side. We should have won so much more but we didn’t.”
Following his release from Lancashire, Dominic received a call from Hampshire chairman, Rod Bransgrove and what followed was a perfect swansong to his career. “Rod rang me up and asked if I fancied coming down to Hampshire and I ended up spending my final 3 years down there. We won two finals, and it was a wonderful way to finish my career. And when I look back, I do think wow. I was 11 wickets short of finishing on 10,000 runs and 1,000 wickets which would have put me alongside Robert Croft as the only player to reach that milestone. I probably should have played more for England, but that was down to myself.”
I asked Dominic when he reflects on his playing career, who were some of his toughest opponents with both bat, and ball. “With the bat probably Tendulkar, Lara or Steve Waugh. Those three were so mentally tough and geniuses who made batting look so easy. With the ball, I’d have to say McGrath, Warne, Akram and Younis – when I think of them, I just think wow.”
Since finishing his playing days Dominic has been a regular with Sky Sports and last season was named head coach of Derbyshire’s T20 side.
“I love it. I’m so lucky. I finished playing in 2011 and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I’d done a bit of commentary work when Sky said they could offer me a few bits and pieces and Sky Sports News asked me if I’d like to do some reporting from grounds. It’s grown from there. I now do the IPL, the Pakistan Super League, the MSL in South Africa and the Blast here in England. I’ve very lucky to still be around cricket.”
And the coaching? “I was originally invited to go back to Derby as a bowling coach under John Wright. John was head coach for two years and took us to a quarter final. He reached a point where he didn’t want to keep doing it and put my name forward to replace him and I’m thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a completely different coach to what I was as a player. I’m very calm. I’m not at them. I don’t dish out the hairdryer treatment. I sit down. I contemplate. People said I didn’t show enough emotion when we won the quarter final last summer to reach finals day. But for me it’s about winning and just qualifying isn’t enough. We hadn’t won anything. For me it’s about winning and that’s how I am as a coach. If we can get some cricket this summer, we’ll aim to go that one step further. It won’t be easy. I mean, if you ask any cricket fan around the country who they think will win the Blast, not many will say Derbyshire. But that’s good. I like that. I like being the underdog.”
And where does the future lie for Dominic G. Cork? TV, coach, or both? “I’d like to continue with both. I enjoy the commentary and I’m very keen to broaden my coaching. That might mean working with teams abroad, we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been very lucky and blessed throughout my career to do things I love, and I just want that to continue.”
What I know is, if Dominic continues to take the pride and passion from his playing days into his commentary and coaching, we’ll see and hear from this England legend for many years to come. To see what Dominic is up to today, follow him on Twitter @DominicCork95 or Instagram @dominiccork95