Suffolk star Kirk won't wine over age

CRICKET: GARY Kirk admits he is like a good wine."I have got better as I have matured," says the 40-year-old Suffolk medium pace bowler who took 72 wickets in his first three years of Minor Counties cricket – and is leading wicket-taker this year.

GARY Kirk admits he is like a good wine.

"I have got better as I have matured," says the 40-year-old Suffolk medium pace bowler who took 72 wickets in his first three years of Minor Counties cricket – and is leading wicket-taker this year.

Clacton-based Kirk, who did not make his Suffolk debut until he was 36, does not fret about the 20 years or so when he was consistently taking wickets at a high level of club cricket without gaining any county recognition.

"If I had been selected earlier by Suffolk I would probably have packed up playing by now," said Kirk after bowling 51 overs against Staffordshire at Bury St Edmunds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. This was after sending down 17 overs for Clacton on Saturday.

"I would have no challenges left. My first challenge was to become a regular in the Suffolk side.

"This year I wanted to qualify for the third round of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy and bowl against a first-class county.

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"This I achieved against Nottinghamshire on June 27. My next objective is to play 'international' cricket when Suffolk play against Denmark at Copdock in the first round of the 2002 C&G Trophy on August 29.

"I will know when to hang up my whites but at the moment that time has not come."

Kirk admits that Suffolk director of cricket, Kevin Brooks, took a big risk when he asked the business manager of an oil company – where he has worked for the last 20 years – to play in the 38-county competition against Norfolk at Framlingham College in May 1998.

"I certainly kept the nearby tennis players interested as I went for 83 runs from my ten overs," recalled Kirk.

"But I still made my Minor Counties debut that year, against Bedfordshire at Ipswich School, and have to be happy with how things have gone."

Kirk began his career as a 16-year-old with Weeley and moved to Little Clacton halfway through his first season.

The next year he was playing for Clacton, where he has stayed ever since.

"I was used as a net bowler by Essex at Chelmsford when I was a teenager, but never realistically had a chance of making the professional game," added Kirk.

"It was around the time that Neil Foster was coming through the Essex ranks and I soon realised that my best bet was to get fixed up with a career outside the game.

"I used to bang the ball in a bit in my early days but the Clacton wicket has mostly been slow and I learned to adapt.

"I have improved like a good wine and have become a better bowler as I have slowed down a bit.

"Before Kevin Brooks arrived on the scene Suffolk had a policy of picking mainly home-grown players. I cannot argue with that at all. But Kevin has used clubs who play in the Two Counties Championship as his base, and my career has looked up.

"It can be a problem being a club player within a first class county and perhaps I have s-ffered a little because of this. But I have no complaints.

"Clacton won the Two Counties Championship four times in eight years, and I also captained the league's representative side. Incidentally, Suffolk captain Phil Caley played under me in that team."

Kirk has a strong message to young cricketers in the Suffolk and north Essex area. He says that they must play at the highest level.

"I hear some talented youngsters say they are not interested in playing in the East Anglian Premier League because of the travelling and early starts. This is wrong.

"Unless players play at their peak they will not rise to their full potential and it is vital to their enjoyment of the game, and the well-being of Suffolk cricket, that all the best local players play in the East Anglian League."

Kirk, who is married to Trudy, has a nine-year-old son Lewis and seven-year-old daughter Sian. "Lewis is showing promise with a cricket bat and ball and when time catches up with me I intend to spend plenty of time with him," added Kirk.

"My family have been cricket 'widows' and it might not be long before that is changed."

In four seasons Kirk has served Suffolk cricket so well and when he does depart after his 'Indian summer' he will be a hard act to follow.

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