As the pre-season games begin to roll in we look ahead at how the university teams are shaping in preparation for their games against first-class opposition.
These games are designed to give the counties a competitive match against up-and-coming opposition. The MCCU teams treat it as a stepping stone for players to experience first-class opponents and the pressures of a county match. Fixtures against the top teams in cricket mean that it gives an ideal platform for players, who are either already associated to a county or looking to be picked up by a county, to showcase their ability.
Such players who have benefited from the MCCU system include Will Porterfield, James Foster, Monty Panesar and Will Smith, whilst recent graduates who have gained county contracts include Luis Reece (ex-Leeds/Bradford MCCU) for Lancashire, Zafar Ansari (ex-Cambridge MCCU) for Surrey and Chris Jones (ex-Durham MCCU) for Somerset. This system has reaped the benefits of allowing players to stay in higher education and yet be able to forge a cricketing career out of playing for the University sides against quality opposition.
Cambridge, along with Oxford, are the two most well renowned Universities in the world and this prestigious University has produced many fine First-Class cricketers. Cambridge MCCU includes both Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University, this collaboration occurred prior to the 2010 season. Entertaining Cambridge at Fenner’s this year include Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
The former Ireland U19 and ‘A’ spinner Ben Wylie will be key to Cambridge fortunes in these opening stages of the season. He used the 2014 season to successfully claim the number one spinners slot from the departing Zafar Ansari and Paul Best.
The other half of Oxbridge played its first fixture against Cambridge University in 1827 and this has gone down in history as the maiden first-class game to be played in the world. This has seen Oxford grow as a key nurturing ground for many ex-England and first-class cricketers. As of 2010, Oxford combined with Oxford Brookes University to form Oxford MCCU who play their home games at the majestic University Parks Ground. The 2015 season sees the side take on Worcestershire, Middlesex, Surrey and of course Cambridge in the Varsity Match at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Johny Marsden is a pace bowler who originally hails from the Derbyshire Academy and has now taken the step into University Cricket. He took two wickets in the Varsity Game at Lord’s last years and followed that up with an extended run in the Derbyshire Second XI. He had been with Derbyshire since he was 15, graduating through their Academy to the Second XI, taking 30 wickets in 22 matches over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
A renowned sports University in its own right, Loughborough excels not just in cricket but also rugby, hockey, football and athletics. Loughborough MCCU gained first-class status in 2003 and from then on have produced many distinguished cricketers, most notably current England and Essex bowler Monty Panesar. This season sees Loughborough play both Hampshire and Nottinghamshire in what will be competitive games for the University side.
Basil Akram has been around the academy setups of both Northamptonshire and Essex but finally found a home last year when Hampshire gave him a summer contract. It is apparent that the London-born bowler made an impression on the coaches as he made his county debut against Yorkshire in the Royal London Cup at The Rose Bowl. He is known as a fast-bowling all-rounder and his experience will surely be key to pinning back his Hampshire teammates.
Durham gained first-class status in 2003 and are a key University for producing former England cricket captains (namely Nasser Hussain and Andrew Strauss), with the pair playing for Durham before it was given the right to play first-class games. More recent graduates of the MCCU system are current Essex captain and former England wicketkeeper James Foster and current Hampshire batsman Will Smith. Durham MCCU play their home games at the Racecourse Ground (which held Durham CCC’s first ever first-class fixture).
During the 2012 season Durham MCCU brought the whole MCCU system into question when they were bowled out for a meagre 18 runs (succumbing to equalling the tenth lowest score in first-class cricket). This lead to calls for MCCU fixtures to have their first-class statuses dropped and even Durham MCCU head coach and ex England international Graeme Fowler calling it “the worst day we’ve ever had”. This season Durham MCCU start against Somerset, before heading down the road to Chester-le-Street to play Durham.
Cameron Steel is an American born batsman who signed for Middlesex last summer. Steel made his Durham MCCU debut last season making a half century against a Durham attack comprising of Graham Onions, Chris Rushworth, Jamie Harrison and Usman Arshad. Later on in the season he would go on to make a solid 55 for the Middlesex Second XI against eventual winners Leicestershire at Grace Road. In what is a young side, the presence of a singed county player will only benefit this Durham side.
Leeds/Bradford MCCU were formed in 2005 and gained first-class status in 2012. Their first game was against Surrey in which they lost a close contest by two runs. Leeds/ Bradford MCCU had beaten Surrey in a non-first-class game in 2005, the first game for the side. The 2015 season sees the University side take on Sussex and, in a repeat of last year’s fixture, rivals Yorkshire.
It is not every day that a cricketer gets a second chance in sport, but Christian Davis has that opportunity. Released from Northamptonshire at the back end of the 2013 season, Davis decided the way to make other counties spot his underlying potential was to play MCCU cricket. The former England-U19 all-rounder has four List A games to his name, producing an impressive 54 against Kent in 2012. A left arm fast-medium bowler makes Davis a useful option for the Leeds/ Bradford MCCU bowling stocks. A mainstay in the Northamptonshire 2nd XI for three years, Davis finally made his first-class debut last season for Leeds. It is in the longer format of the game that he will be looking to make an impression against county opposition.
Founded in 2004, Cardiff MCCU were given first-class status in 2012. They played their first game against Somerset CCC and have since been recognised as the key breeding ground for cricketers in Wales. Formed of Cardiff University, Glamorgan University and the University of Wales Institute, it plays two first-class matches a year. Successful graduates of the Cardiff MCCU system are Mark Pettini, now of Essex CCC, and James Tomlinson, who plies his trade with Hampshire. The 2013 season saw Cardiff MCCU draw against both rivals Glamorgan and fellow Division Two side Kent. The up-and-coming season sees them take on Glamorgan in a repeated fixture of last year and Gloucestershire at the County Ground Bristol.
After making his Glamorgan debut and going on to play three first-class games last season Kieran Bull will be looking to use these early Cardiff games to show the Glamorgan selectors why he should be above Dean Cosker and Andrew Salter in the spinners department. He was given a development contract in 2014 having been awarded the Glamorgan Academy Award for the Most Promising Young Player of 2013 due to taking 35 wickets for both the second XI and Wales Minor Counties. The second year Sports Management student picked up four wickets in his debut game against Kent last season and will be looking to follow up last season exploits in order to cement his place in the Welsh regions side.