Cricket: New skipper Park confident he can revive Dorset's fortunes

Bournemouth Echo: NEW SKIPPER: Chris Park (batting) NEW SKIPPER: Chris Park (batting)

IT SEEMS a distant memory. In 2010, England retained the Ashes and Dorset were crowned Minor Counties champions.

Fast forward and the Aussies’ whitewash of England sent shockwaves of negativity around the nation, while Dorset are also the whipping boys.

A change of captain will see Chris Park this season lead Dorset in the newly-named Unicorns Counties Championship and the Unicorns One Day Trophy.

The 30-year-old wicket-keeper, who has represented the county for more than a decade, told the Daily Echo: “It was something that just materialised naturally. I was lucky enough to stand in as captain for that Minor Counties final and it was a privilege to lead the winning team.

“I was asked towards the end of the summer and, with changes in my family commitments, I have moved back to Wimborne. It made sense for me to do it and I am looking forward to making a few changes, creating a good atmosphere and bringing Dorset more success.

“I wouldn’t have taken on the job if I hadn’t been confident we could turn things around.”

Park replaces Tom Hicks, who has stepped down as captain after seven years, although he will still play. Jake Lintott has been appointed vice-captain.

The new skipper added: “As wicket-keeper, you get to see a lot more from behind the stumps. Tom has always stood at first slip so we have both had our input on where the game is going.”

While keeping wicket last season, Park saw a number of different faces in the outfield as Dorset searched for an elusive winning formula. They also blooded younger members of the squad to give them some vital experience leading into this year’s campaign.

“Last year, we didn’t play as well as we could have and it was a bit of the changing of the guard,” he added.

“A lot of experienced players couldn’t play due to work commitments and they were vital parts of the team. We didn’t win many games or play to our potential but it was a good experience for some talented young cricketers.

“For me, it’s a clean slate this year. We start again and it will be nice to build a rapport with the new members of the team. I am looking to win as many games as possible. We have some fixtures that we should be competitive in and I’d like to think we could win three or four games.

“If we get on a winning roll and create a good team environment, there is no reason why we can’t challenge for the three-day championship or even the one-day trophy.”

There is no doubt that Dorset prospects have flourished and the county have produced some quality professionals in recent years.

Lewis McManus and Tom Barber both represented England under-19s recently and David Payne lays claim to the best one-day bowling figures in Gloucestershire’s history.

But arguably the highlight has to have come from former Dorset batsman and ex-Poole Grammar School student Chris Jones, who scored 130 for Somerset in a tour match against Australia at Taunton last summer.

Analysing the county’s next young prospects is something Park is keen to do and, if they are good enough, he is prepared to give them their chance: “I am looking for Dorset lads that have been schooled in Dorset and are playing club cricket to get themselves noticed and put their names in the hat for selection.

“I’ve just agreed to be the head coach for Wimborne junior cricket and have spoken to Parley about being involved in their set up as well. I’m also doing a bit of coaching at the cricket centre at Hurn Bridge and the standard is fantastic. It’s just a case of putting it together at the top end.

“It’s a credit to the cricket board and the county coaches that we are producing these young talents. There are endless names that are playing cricket at a professional level. It shows how strong the local community is with its coaching and club cricket.

“I will be attending the under-17 sessions over half-term to show my face to the younger lads and see what sort of abilities they have got.”

The former Bournemouth man, who gained a three-year contract with Northamptonshire as a youngster, brings vast experience to the local set up.

He was part of a Dorset team that featured against Yorkshire in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy at Dean Park in 2004, lining up against internationals such as Tim Bresnan, Michael Lumb, Richard Dawson and the current head coach of Australia Darren Lehmann.

Dorset will play Hampshire in a T20 double-header at Dean Park in May, while Park’s first test comes in a one-day friendly against Hampshire seconds on April 13.

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