County Championship: Sam Cook excited to play again for Essex after winter of studying

PUBLISHED: 15:00 16 March 2018

Sam Cook of Essex (pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Sam Cook of Essex (pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo +44 1376 553468

While Essex had representatives in the four corners of the cricket-playing world over the winter, the sensation of September, Sam Cook, stayed home and buried his head in books.

Seam bowler Cook burst into the side in the final month of last season, taking the new-ball with Jamie Porter and claiming 18 wickets at 15.89 each in four Specsavers County Championship matches as Essex sealed the title for the first time in quarter of a century.

But within days of the trophy presentation after the three-day demolition of Yorkshire – in which Cook posted the second five-wicket haul of his brief career – the 20-year-old was back behind his desk at Loughborough University, embarking on the final year of a degree course in history and international relations.

“It was an awesome month for the club,” he says. “It is still the time I look back on and have to pinch myself – did it really happen?

“Just thinking about that final day against Yorkshire still gives me goosebumps. Looking around a packed-out Chelmsford, I’ll never forget seeing all the smiling faces and how much it meant to everyone, not just the players and staff, but the fans as well.

“The squad’s a family unit. I’ve been around the team for quite a while, being in the squad and doing 12th man up to that point, so I felt part of it. You never feel like an outsider in this dressing room.”

During the close season, Cook fitted his cricket around his studies; now he will have to fit what remains of his studies around the Essex fixture list. The Chelmsford lad, who signed his first professional contract in October, has a couple of pieces of coursework, an exam and a 12,000-word dissertation to complete before he can concentrate fully on cricket. He is on course for a 2:1 – “a decent degree”, in his words.

“I’ve broken the back of it,” he says. “I’ve got about 3,000 words left of my dissertation. It’s on ‘Corruption in Fifa’. It’s not been boring, it’s something I’m interested in. It’s been really enlightening.”

In between immersing himself in the problems of world football, Cook has been pounding away in the gym and nets at Loughborough. He had his first outdoor session at the CloudFM County Ground on Tuesday.

“It came out nicely,” he reports. “I’ve had a few little things I’ve tried to work on and I’ve definitely felt the benefits indoors. This is the time of the year when you’re putting what you’ve practised over the winter into effect outside, and you get more of a gauge whether it has helped or not.

“The nets are pretty bowler-friendly at the minute, so going out to Barbados on our pre-season tour will be a real test of whether what I’ve been working on has been useful.”

Essex head on Sunday to the West Indies for a two-week trip that includes the annual County Champion match against the MCC. The Championship season opens in four weeks’ time against Yorkshire at Headingley.

The seam attack has been augmented with the signing of Australian Test bowler Peter Siddle for the first five Championship matches, after which the returning Neil Wagner takes over, and the acquisition of all-rounder Matt Coles from Kent.

Cook is not daunted by their arrivals. “Any competition in the side is healthy competition,” he says. “Any addition to the dressing room of that standard is only going to help us. Any competition is only going to drive you on and make you play better. It’s a positive thing.

“We had a brilliant time last season, not only on the pitch, but the buzz around the dressing room. We’re driven, and even more now because we’ve got the belief; we know we can do it and we want to replicate it this year.”

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