Next in our series celebrating the cult heroes of county cricket today, Scott Oliver speaks to Northamptonshire’s favourite Aussie-slayer Steven Crook.
Name: Steven Paul Crook
Clubs: Lancashire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire
Best of times: Winning the T20 title in 2013
Worst of times: Leaving Northamptonshire in 2009 after a string of injuries
In his own words: “I love cricket, I love playing, and I love entertaining people on a cricket field, but that’s one part of who I am. There’s a lot of life to live outside of cricket.”
Crook by name, crook by nature – or so the Northamptonshire faithful might have felt in 2009, when Steven Crook limped away from Wantage Road after an injury-blighted five-year spell at the club. Operations on knees, shoulder and for hernias led to him declining offers from other counties – “It didn’t sit right with me; I wasn’t in the best place” – and taking time out of the game. “It was a risk – I was 27 at the time – but it was the best thing I ever did. Playing 2010 for Brixworth was awesome. When you’re in the professional game, you can lose sight of what cricket’s about. I went back to playing for the love of it, getting in a frame of mind where I was enjoying putting on the whites. I’m forever grateful to those guys for pulling me out of a pretty dark place.”
The love of the game had been first nurtured playing backyard cricket in Adelaide, “bowling for hours in 40-degree heat” at elder brother Andrew, who would also play for Lancashire, Northants and South Australia. Although he held a British passport, thanks to emigrant parents, Crook initially didn’t come in order to carve out a professional career. “I originally came over to play a bit of league cricket in Huddersfield. I’d played with Mark Chilton in Adelaide, and he invited to me a few nets and a trial at Lancashire. They offered me a contract, and when someone puts a piece a paper in front of you at that age it’s hard to say no. Lancashire gave me an opportunity to do something I’d wanted to do my whole life. There wasn’t much hesitation.”
While Crook is “hugely grateful for the opportunity” provided by Lancashire, getting past Flintoff, Anderson, Chapple, Mahmood, Hogg et al proved difficult, so he offskied for his oft-knacked spell in Northampton.
Rejuvenation at Brixworth led to a two-year stint at Middlesex. Promotion in the first season followed by a third-place finish in the next was rewarding, yet Crook was still living in Northampton and found the travel difficult. He also wanted more four-day cricket: “I felt I had a little bit of unfinished business at Northants. Because of my injuries, the fans and the club didn’t see the best of me, so I was keen to get back and prove a point – that I wasn’t just injury prone, and wasn’t as bad as they thought.”
The first season back was Northants’ finest for many a moon, winning promotion to Division One and famously nicking off with the T20 Cup, only the fourth trophy in their history. Crook won Man of the Match in the semi against Essex, before dismissing dangerman Glenn Maxwell in the final – the most memorable delivery of his career, he says, with a six launched over long-on off Shaun Tait in that semi his best-ever shot.
2014 was a comedown – “It’s a bloody long season if you don’t win a game” – yet this year is going nicely, for Crook and the team, and he feels his game’s in good shape, particularly in white-ball cricket. “I feel like I understand my role really clearly. I feel like I pace my innings really well. I just want to make contributions to winning teams.”
While Crook remains ambitious as a cricketer, he “likes to keep things interesting”. His indie-rock band Juliet The Sun provided England’s 2009 Ashes psyche-up tune, ‘Time for Heroes’, even heading out on a UK tour of a popular, Australian-themed pub chain (which Joe Root and David Warner have been known to visit), playing to a couple of thousand people in some venues.
He also helped set up runs4funds.org, where, through sponsored performance, he’s raising money for Lewis Herbert, a local boy with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. With Crook’s Peter Pan-like bowling and ever-improving batting, rival frontman and ex-Northants star Graeme Swann will doubtless be parting with a fair chunk of cash.