By Matt Somerford
Northamptonshire all-rounder Steven Crook is the most unlikely one-man double act in county cricket.
This season Yorkshire won the LV= County Championship title on the back of openers Adam Lyth and Alex Lees, Gloucestershire had the Gidman brothers but none can match the entertainment value of Crook’s multi-pronged talent.
The 31-year-old Australian is one part hard-hitting lower-order batsman, one part skiddy wicket-taker and, most curiously, one part wedding singer.
Crook has courted musical acclaim as an aside to his decade-long cricket career while he fronted his former band Juliet the Sun.
They toured the country in 2010, played live on TV at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards and their song ‘Time for Heroes’ was even used by NBC America during their Stanley Cup coverage.
“I get requests to play at people’s weddings now,” a dry-witted Crook said in an exclusive interview with ecb.co.uk.
“I played the first dance for Tom Smith (a former team-mate at Middlesex who now plays at Gloucestershire). That was pretty bloody nerve-racking.”
Crook has scored more than 4,000 domestic runs and taken close to 300 wickets. Wedding singing, however, rates higher than anything he has done on the pitch for creating nerves.
“It was a lot of pressure – probably the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he said.
“When it is someone’s wedding and it means that much to someone it’s pretty important you get it right. It’s not like you can just say: ‘Sorry mate. I screwed that line up’.
“I’ve had a few requests to do some more. Maybe that’s my career after cricket. I can become the local Adam Sandler.”
On the field Crook has proved just as entertaining after returning to Wantage Road for a second spell following the 2012 season.
He was a cornerstone of a memorable 2013 when Northamptonshire won the Twenty20 title – their first trophy in 21 years – while also gaining promotion. Crook claimed 43 wickets and averaged 40.16 with the bat in the championship.
Like his team-mates, however, those numbers were significantly down this summer – despite Crook’s maiden first-class century, which came at at Lord’s – as Northamptonshire were relegated from the LV= County Championship top flight at the first time of asking without a win.
Thanks everyone for the very kind messages! About bloody time I got one, and really honoured to be able to do it at Lords!#onlytook11years
— Steven Crook (@stevecrook25) July 3, 2014
Failure to get out of the group in either limited-overs competition only confirmed their return to earth with a thud.
“We didn’t do ourselves justice,” said Crook.
“We knew it was going to be pretty difficult for us to stay up and that we had to play our best cricket to stay up. It was always going to be a difficult season.
“In hindsight we could have prepared a little bit better but moving forward we now know what we have to do to try and get back in the first division.
“We need to work a lot harder than perhaps we have done and we need to make sure that we are fitter and stronger than we ever have been.”
The Australian is not the sort of person to dwell on ‘what ifs’ and he views the summer as a missed opportunity after it appeared jinxed before it even began, due to injury and mis-fortune over their overseas signings.
Captain Alex Wakely missed the season after suffering an Achilles injury on the pre-season tour of the Caribbean while David Willey, the star of their Twenty20 success, hardly bowled due to a back problem.
To compound matters, international pacemen Jackson Bird and Rory Kleinveldt never made it to Wantage Road due to injury.
“When we eventually did get an overseas player, he ended up going home injured as well,” Crook said. “Maybe there was a massive conspiracy against us.
“You don’t want to have any excuses, we weren’t good enough, but when things like that happen with a small squad it doesn’t make it particularly easy.
“It feels like we didn’t get the chance to show what we can do. It was a missed opportunity and I think that can drive the team on next season.
“We have to think like that because things like that happen in cricket. You have to pick yourself up.”
A winter clear-out has since begun as the club looks to youth for next season.
Not even player-of-the-season James Middlebrook has been safe from the changes after he was released along with veteran all-rounder Andrew Hall and Matthew Spriegel while David Sales retired.
In their place Leicestershire’s Twenty20 skipper Josh Cobb has already been lured south and Adam Rossington, who enjoyed a profitable loan spell after arriving midway through the summer from Middlesex, has signed permanently.
“I think we are shaping up nicely,” said Crook, who sees no reason why they cannot challenge for honours again in 2015.
“We have got a really good squad for next year, particularly in one-day cricket.
— Northants Cricket (@NorthantsCCC) August 26, 2014
“Josh Cobb has won a T20 and there is a lot of the squad still there who won it last year so we have experience in winning trophies.
“Having Alex Wakely back (he will replace Stephen Peters as captain in all formats) too will be important. We really missed him this year.
“It’s not just his runs but also his captaincy style and the calm that he brings to the team and the leadership that he has.
“There are going to be guys who run through brick walls for him so it is going to be quality and if we can get a couple of more players in, like I think is going to happen, that will help.”
Crook’s own road to redemption will begin back in Australia this winter.
He will return to his home-town Adelaide for the first time in three years with the primary objective of enjoying a much-needed break – after back-to-back pre-seasons in England – but with one eye on a potential Big Bash League deal.
He missed out on a BBL offer last winter because he had stayed in England. It is a situation he is not prepared to allow to pass him by again.
“It’s not something I’m going out there specifically for but it would be nice to be out there at the same time as the Big Bash just in case something comes up,” he said.
“I missed out on my opportunity last year unfortunately because I wasn’t in the country.
“The primary aim is to go over and get some sun on my back though, see some family and train in the hot weather. I spent the last two winters without a break.”
When he returns refreshed to Wantage Road, bringing back the feel-good factor of two summers ago will be high on the agenda.
“It would be great to get that feeling back,” he said.
“I remember after we paraded the Twenty20 trophy at a rugby game at Franklin’s Gardens after the final everyone was right behind us.
“We ended up in a pub rammed full across the road afterwards and there was a band on. Dave Willey told them to let me have a go and I was up there singing in front of all these Saints fans; it was absolutely brilliant.
“It was a great time for the club and with the talent and the flair that some of these guys play with I think there is going to be fantastic entertainment for the crowd at Wantage Road next season.
“I just want to play exciting cricket. I want to play cricket that is entertaining for the crowd as well as myself. I’m really looking forward to it.”
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