By Neil Goulding
TALENTED teenage batting ace Martyn Knight is looking to prove
his worth for Cheshire this season as they continue their quest
The 18-year-old right-hander has already shown what he is capable of sparkling for his county at Under-17, 19 and 21-levels.
But the real test he admits has come in making the massive leap to Minor Counties level where has already been pitted against a string of former first-class cricketers.
"It's a lot more intense because the standard is so much higher," admitted Knight, who has made a promising start to senior Cheshire career with scores of 45, 23 not out and an unbeaten 49 against Hertfordshire. "You have to work a lot harder and work for your runs. It's different from club cricket because although you have to work for your runs, you'll probably get a few more looser deliveries. At Minor Counties level the bowlers bowl a tight line and make you play a different innings."
Not that phases Knight who by his own admission likes to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
"I've been really pleased with the way I've started for Cheshire," said Knight, "but I always aim to score my runs as quickly as I can. Some situations, like when we played Dorset at Oxton, require you just to stay in before the tea break. However, once you've found your feet, you can play that little bit for freely and that's what I've tried to do this year. It's a big chance for me to step up and get some runs."
Indeed, averaging 117 is a good start to any Minor Counties career, even in the early stages of a career which will hopefully span for at least a decade to come.
But does Knight, who play for Hyde in the Murray Smith Accountants Cheshire County League E.C.B. Premier Division, feel the pressure at such an early stage in his career.
"I think if you're good enough to play for Cheshire, then you should be able to play, regardless of your age," said Knight, who started playing for Hollingworth, aged 7, in the Glossop and District Cricket League. "It's nice that my performances have kept me in contention for the team, which is great because Cheshire have got a lot of good players.
"I've just said to myself that I want to keep working on my game this year and doing as well as I can. I think playing for Cheshire Under-17s, Under-19s and now the Under-21s has given me a good grounding. I've been playing at those levels when I'm a lot younger that the other players on occasions, which has meant I have had to play a higher standard of cricket.
"When you play against older players you have to raise your game and that has probably helped me improve as a player. When I played at those age groups when I was the same age as the other players I found the standard a little bit easier. It proved that I was improving and I just wanted to keeping working hard and getting better."
And Knight, who has made his mark at club and county youth levels, received worthy recognition for his tireless work ethic when he received a call-up to the England Under-17s team, just as he was starting to blossom in the game. That international honour has been one of the driving factors in his desire to push himself to new levels.
"I trained at Lilleshall with England Under-17s, which was a great experience for me," added Knight. "Training with the team showed me the level I had to aim for to improve, but it also gave me valuable experience as well. I'm happy with my progression at the moment though and I don't really feel the pressure. It took a bit of an adjustment playing three-day cricket having played one-day or two-day cricket, but I'm loving the challenge. You have to concentrate all day and that takes a bit of getting used too, but the team spirit is 110% at the moment and you can't fault the atmosphere in the dressing room at the moment."
No wonder, having not lost yet in the Minor Counties Championship Western Division has given Cheshire captain Andy Hall and his team plenty of optimism that honours could be up for grabs at the end of a long and hard-fought campaign. A view shared by Knight, back in the Cheshire set-up having missed matches against Berkshire and Northumberland because he was revising hard for his A-Level exams.
"I was disappointed to have missed a few games," said Knight, "but I've completed my exams now and so I should be available for the rest of the season. I think we've got a great team this year and we've made a good start. We've probably surprised a few teams and hopefully we can continue to do that."
And the young Hyde player is optimistic of Cheshire's chances of success for years to come.
"There's a lot of good young players coming through," added Knight. "Nafees [Din] and Danny [Leech] are quality players and they've shown what they are capable of. The future looks very bright for Cheshire cricket."