At Winchmore Hill, Corns is competing for space in a richly talented first team squad that includes Gatting, Scott Newman, Jamie Thorpe and Tom Kopelman, players who have at one point either been a part of the MCC Young Cricketers program, been contracted to English counties, or played second XI county cricket or higher.
By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
USA allrounder Ryan Corns is gearing up for USA’s remaining commitments in 2013 – The Auty Cup tour to Canada and the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE – by playing four months of league cricket in the greater London area with Winchmore Hill Cricket Club, the reigning First Division champions of the Middlesex County Cricket League. Corns, 22, decided to seize the opportunity offered to him by Winchmore Hill first XI captain James Gatting, a rare opportunity for an American player to play a higher standard of weekend cricket.
“The level of cricket is very high here and I’ve been enjoying it,” Corns said. “If you’re playing against higher opposition, you’re going to be enjoying your cricket. The batting’s still a work in progress, I’m still adjusting to the wicket conditions over here for the first bit of the season. I’m really enjoying it so far and just having easier access to top class practicing facilities. James Gatting’s a Level Three coach so he’s helping me out here and there. Everything’s going good so far.”
Image (right) - Ryan Corns batting for Winchmore Hill CC in Middlesex, England. [Courtesy: Bob Ludlam/Winchmore Hill CC]
Corns first met Gatting, the son of former England international Mike Gatting, at a Lord’s Taverners game in 2009 and the two continued to keep in contact through their interactions at the Sarasota International Six-A-Side Festival which takes place every year over Thanksgiving weekend in November. Corns would travel to Florida with his Houston-based Memorial CC while Gatting would come from England. Gatting says he’d been trying to convince Corns to come play a season in the UK for a few years before finally getting him to agree to it for 2013.
“Usually people are very fond of having someone from Australia. Generally clubs go out and look for a very good first grade player either from Sydney, Melbourne or Perth,” Gatting said, referring to English league restrictions which typically permit only one non-UK resident or passport holder to be in a starting eleven. “The reason why I brought Ryan over is because one he’s young and he’s a very good batter. For our type of cricket it’s a challenge for him. He said to me what do you think the best thing for me to do to improve my cricket and I said come and play in England. The next level above our standard is professional cricket. He’s a left-arm spinner as well. He’s a damn good fielder and all those things to me say he’s definitely a first team cricketer in our league.”
At Winchmore Hill, Corns is competing for space in a richly talented first team squad that includes Gatting, Scott Newman, Jamie Thorpe and Tom Kopelman, players who have at one point either been a part of the MCC Young Cricketers program, been contracted to English counties, or played second XI county cricket or higher. Another member of the squad is Josh Davey, who is a rising star in the Scotland national team and contracted with Middlesex. Meanwhile, opposing teams have featured players such as Kenya’s Ragheb Aga and former English first-class player James Bull. When asked to compare it to USA standards, Corns said the level of cricket is like being in a regional side such as the Central West team he's represented since 2009. The advantage for Corns is that he's experiencing that now on a weekly basis in the UK whereas he might play that standard of competition for the Central West once or twice a year in the USA, if at all, depending on how tournaments are organized.
Corns has had a decent first two months with Winchmore Hill CC, taking 23 wickets at an average of 13.74 including a best of 6 for 13. With the bat, he’s notched 275 runs with two half-centuries including a best of 67 and is averaging 27.50 while batting mostly at number four or five in Winchmore Hill’s order. Corns has gotten several more starts, accumulating six scores between 19 and 36, without going on to bigger numbers but Gatting attributes that partly to the early season conditions as well as lack of experience playing so often on turf wickets and in the declaration format of the league which means playing up to 120 overs in a day.
“Batting wise, I think he’s been a victim of the formats he’s played. He plays some lovely shots, gets himself 20s and 30s, gets himself in but doesn’t have the experience yet,” Gatting said. “It’s a test for him and his knowledge of the game. It’s a test for him and how can he adapt to these conditions because it’s not easy playing on grass wickets over here which all vary in quality and the fact that the ball swings for a lot longer over here compared to America where they play on matting or artificial turf surfaces where the ball stays hard for about 10-15 overs and that’s it. He’s got all the goods to play at our level and be a very good player at English club level. He just needs experience now.”
Corns had previously played declaration cricket in South Africa prior to migrating to the USA, but has typically played a steady diet of 40-over and T20 cricket in the Houston area. Reverting back to the longer format has taken a bit of adjusting, but Corns says he’s learning a lot more about how to approach both his batting and his bowling to become a more effective player.
“In terms of batting, it’s teaching me to be more patient at the wicket, not go looking for shots but letting the shots come to me,” Corns said. “In terms of bowling, you have to bowl in areas instead of looking for dot balls. Declaration cricket you don’t want to be bowling a one-day line outside off. In declaration cricket, if you bowl that one-day line outside off, they’ll just leave it. If a team is seven or eight wickets down with 10 overs left in the day, the batsmen will just leave six out of six if it’s outside the wicket. It’s been teaching me to concentrate my bowling areas within the needs of the game.”
Image (left) - Corns bowling for Winchmore Hill CC in Middlesex, England. [Courtesy: Bob Ludlam/Winchmore Hill CC]
Corns says he’s appreciated being able to train daily with the facilities available at the club which include four practice nets and free use of bowling machines. Fielding tools are also available such as catching ramps and agility ladders. Having ECB Level Three qualified coaches like Gatting around has also been a tremendous development resource and Corns has appreciated being able to glean as much info from him as possible. For Gatting, he hopes it won’t be the last time Corns plays a season for Winchmore Hill.
“On the field he’s a very talented cricketer,” Gatting said. “Ryan’s got a good work ethic. He’s willing to learn. He’s come over here to learn and to put himself out of his comfort zone. I think he’s gonna do well and toward the end of the season I think the runs will have come thick and fast and the wickets will improve. Off the field he’s brilliant. Everyone loves him. He’s a good team man. He’s always out there. He’s never someone you have to babysit. He’s someone that’s always willing to do something else for his teammates.”
Corns is grateful for the opportunity provided by Winchmore Hill but above all is just looking for ways to keep improving as a cricketer during his time in London, which will come to an end when he has to return to Texas at the end of the summer to resume his studies at the University of Houston, where he’ll be a junior in the fall. In the process, he’s doing his best to raise the reputation of players representing the USA.
“Some of the guys I’ve played against, when they find out I’m from America they’re surprised there’s even cricket in America,” Corns said. “I know quite a few of the US players would give an arm and a leg to play a season over here.”