Sit down and grab a cup of tea, we’ve got a feature length interview with Dominic Cork for you…
Dominic Cork has been on both sides of the cricketing fence. As a player he was rarely one to back down and always enjoyed the limelight, so it came as a surprise to exactly nobody when he moved into the media side of the game with Sky Sports. He’s attempting to bring his forthright views and honest analysis to the TV and it’s not going badly for him.
We caught up on a mundane Wednesday evening. England have just beaten Australia in the least enthralling English – Aussie contest of all time and the wet weather has largely derailed the season. Still, the show goes on so we kick off with a topic close to Cork’s heart – the Friends Life Twenty20 tournament.
It was a tournament Cork won as captain of Hampshire in 2010, during the extended twilight of his 22 year playing career. “I’ve been following Nottinghamshire and they were my tip at the start,” begins Cork. “If you pushed me, I’d say Notts will go on and win it.
“They’ve got every base covered. If you look at the way they’re organised, someone like James Taylor, Michael Lumb, Alex Hales; you look at those three batsmen and they can win games on their own.
“With Darren Pattison, Andy Carter and Samit Patel, all round they’ve done really well and they’re a very dangerous side.”
Yorkshire have also caught Cork’s eye. “I’ve followed Yorkshire a bit with Sky Sports and watching the likes of Phil Jacques and the younger guys coming through like Gary Balance, they’ve played exceptionally,” he says.
“Others like Ryan Sidebottom, who was unfortunately injured towards the end of the group stage, like Rich Pyrah, who have been around Yorkshire cricket for a while, still add great experience. That’s why Yorkshire have done well. They’ve got experience and the younger guys have flourished with that.
“Andrew Gale has been injured and Azeem Rafiq, their youngest ever captain, has flourished in that position. Yorkshire have definitely surprised me because of what went on last year; the chief executive questioning the players and so forth. Jason Gillespie has come in and changed the whole ethos and culture.”
Sticking with the T20 for a moment, I enquire as to Cork’s thoughts on some of the derogatory comments that were made about England’s premier tournament in the format by such luminaries as Muttiah Muralitharan and Eoin Morgan. I suggest that the FLT20 is a poor relation to the Indian Premier League…
“When you look at something like the IPL and because of the fact that they’re so fanatical about their cricket over there, it’s difficult,” he says. “I think there needs to be some kind of change, but you need to put it into some sort of context.
“I actually think that in England at the moment, like a lot of other places, people are struggling and can’t just go out and pay £20 for four or five home games and expect to take their families along. We have to be careful that we’re not just trying to change something that isn’t broken.
“There has to be some sort of compromise with the franchise system and I agree with the likes of Murali, who’s played all over, and I’d love to see that franchise system come in to try and attract the best cricketers in the world and to try and simulate what the IPL offers.
“If it means that we have to play in the six Test grounds and we actually have the capacity to fill them, then we have to do that.”
That’s the sort of forthright opinion Cork is bringing to the Sky commentary box. I enquire as to how he’s found the transition from player to commentator.
“I’ve found it quite easy to be fair. Entering the media world was always something I wanted to do and something I’m trying to improve on now. In some ways it’s not really a hard job when you’re talking about something you’ve done for 22 years. It’s nice to be around watching the younger crop, and even some players that I played with, performing at the highest level.”
Surely commenting upon and analysing players that you have shared a dressing room with cannot be easy? “It’s always difficult when you’re trying to give an honest and frank view of a team, especially one you’ve played with,” says Cork, whose career took in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Hampshire.
“I know players will get annoyed but I’m trying to give an honest view and be constructive in my comments. I’m not going to be the sort of guy who says, ‘well in my day we did it that way and in my day we did it this way.’ Whenever I’ve done my commentary and analysis and said a side hasn’t played well, I’ve always given a reason.
“It’s hard interviewing a player who you’ve perhaps sat next to during your career when he’s down, but you have to ask him; what’s going wrong? Why are things going wrong? Hopefully he’ll answer.
“Anyway, the modern day cricketer receives a lot of media training so they normally sit on the fence and you have to try and get it out of them.”
The subject of media training is an interesting one, as it is perceived to mute players in all sports and dilute their opinions. There are, however, a few exceptions to this, Kevin Pietersen being one of them.
“How do I handle this one?” chuckles Cork, as I ask for his opinion on the Kevin Pietersen, Nick Knight affair. Pietersen was critical of Knight on Twitter, leading to a fine and an embarrassing scenario for the ECB.
“There’s obviously been an issue between Pietersen and Nick Knight,” says Cork, feeling his way into the topic. “I know Nick very well and think he’s been a fantastic ambassador for the game and a fantastic commentator, too. I think, unfortunately – and I was in this category when I was a player – some players maybe take criticism the wrong way.”
Cork’s experience as a player is never far away from his opinions as an analyst of the game.
“I think I remember seeing an interview with Pietersen when he got that fantastic hundred in Colombo this year. Nick was doing the post match interviews and he asked something like, ‘well that must be a big relief because you’ve not been in form?’ and Kevin took it completely the wrong way,” Cork continues.
I mention seeing Pietersen being interviewed by Nasser Hussain in the West Indies, having been dismissed by Sulieman Benn for 97. He’d been under pressure from the giant West Indian off spinner in the first Test in Jamaica (a humiliating defeat for England. Remember it? 2009? All out for 51…?) and Hussain pointed this out to him. Pietersen was quite defensive about it and, having gone on to score 97, I guess you can see why.
“Unfortunately players do get like that and it’d be wrong of me to say that it didn’t happen to me,” begins Cork.
“When you’re criticised and you’re under pressure – and when you’re playing for England you are under pressure, it doesn’t matter how confident you are – you still read the papers and it still affects you.
“It’s bound to get to you.
“But there is only one way to reply to anybody and that’s by showing them what you can do, out on the cricket pitch. No one has ever questioned Kevin Pietersen’s ability; it’s just that Kevin Pietersen has a temperament that sometimes lets him down.”
Cork came in for a fair bit of criticism himself as a player, so is only too aware of the effect criticism can have on a player. Did he ever feel like biting back?
“Geoff Boycott was one, he called me a show pony live on Grandstand!” responds Cork, still sounding disbelieving that Boycott actually said that. “Bob Willis, who I work with now, has criticised me, but it is all water under the bridge and you can’t hold grudges.
“I’ve sorted it out with Boycott (I think!), and Bob and I play golf together. It (the criticism) hurts and you just have to bounce back.”
Willis is a man renowned for his forthright and frank opinions and he’s not everyone’s cup of tea as a result. “He’s a great bloke!” says Cork of Willis. “He gets a lot of stick, but I’ll tell you what, he’s the funniest, most dry-witted guy that you’ll ever meet.
“People are questioning him and what he’s saying, but I think what people don’t like is someone who stokes up issues and that’s exactly what Bob does. He talks straight and to the point. Unfortunately some people don’t like it. Off camera he’s funny, he’s witty, loves golf, loves tennis, likes his football; he’s a good man.”
I’ve always been a fan Willis following some comments that I whole heartedly agreed with about former Australian umpire, Daryl Harper. “It’s very funny when he talks about Daryl!” says Cork, before sarcastically suggesting that Willis thinks of Harper as one of cricket’s best umpires.
We agree that it’s a good thing Harper is no longer umpiring on the international stage. I needn’t tell you Willis’s view on his retirement…
Conversation returns to Cork’s playing career. He played with and against some of the game’s greats. “Ah, well, there’s only one and I played with him right at the end of his career,” says Cork of the best he played with.
“His last ODI was my first; Ian Botham. Even though he was at the end of his career he was, for me, an absolute icon and hero and whatever he did was right. After that it would be players like Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain and Andrew Flintoff.”
He then points to Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara as the two best he played against. “I’d probably choose Tendulkar on longevity, although Lara was fantastic and a true icon. I think the way Tendulkar had conducted himself and kept himself in the game – at the top of the game – I think he’s been fantastic.”
There was also an unequivocal response to the question of the best captain and coach Cork has played under. Most players that I’ve put this question to pause, desperate not to miss anyone out. Not Cork, he knows.
“Hussain and (Duncan) Fletcher,” he says, point blank. “They gave me a second chance having been dropped and criticised. They just welcomed me back. They didn’t just turn around English cricket, they turned around people’s careers and I was one of those.”
Botham, Tendulkar, Lara, Hussain, Fletcher… Cork has had a very privileged career in many respects.
“Definitely Joe Root,” says Cork when I change topic and ask who will go on to play for England from the current crop of County stars. “He just seems to work hard and he produces at the highest level.
“I also think Nick Compton, who came so close to breaking Graeme Hick’s record of 1000 runs in the month of May, has worked hard on his technique. He’s not a young player, but I know he’s a player who’s being watched by the England selectors. I think they’ll go to him before James Hildreth.
“England are lucky to have so many bowlers at the moment that are taking wickets and making the step up,” he says of those attempting to follow in his footsteps in wearing the Three Lions. “So I can only say that Root and Compton, looking at them, could definitely go on and play for England.”
Dominic Cork is not a man who is confused or contradictory in his opinions. He is very straight talking and gets to the point. I guess it this innate style of his that drew criticism and rubbed some people up the wrong way. In Boycott’s defence, there is a touch of show pony about him, but only in that he is not a man who is afraid of the attention that being at the top of your game brings.
That’s why it’s no surprise that he’s something of a natural in front of the TV cameras. It doesn’t faze him in the slightest. I get the impression that very little does.
“I would consider it later on but at the moment, because I did 22 years in the game, I’m standing back and enjoying being away from the game day to day; I’m no longer living in people’s pockets,” he says as we conclude our chat by talking about coaching and the future.
“It’s nice to have the Sky work because I’m still close enough to be involved and I can still talk to players, but I’m not so close that I have to be 100% committed.
“Coaching is definitely something that I’ll consider later on, but at the moment I just need to settle away from the game, recharge the batteries and see what happens in the future.”
I’m sure that, should the right offer come along, Cork’s immense experience and straight talking would prove hugely beneficial to the younger generation.
Dominic Cork was speaking on behalf of Asda. Asda are proud to be entering their 7th year of sponsorship of the National Kwik Cricket competition. Asda stores have handed out over £20,000 of healthy food and drink each summer at festivals to help a total of nearly 700,000 children get healthy and active through cricket to date. Go to www.asda.com/kwikcricket for more details.
Interview by Miles Reucroft