Griff warns he’s up for the challenge

Due to the new Indian Premier Cricket League, the restriction of overseas players in our professional game and an unexpected retirement, Sandown’s 22-year David Griffiths could become our most successful cricketer of all time. He’s just returned from a two month spell in Australia and is raring to go in what will be his very first season as a major squad player for Hampshire, one of England’s finest teams.

Last season David played six times for the County’s first eleven and came up against a few of his boyhood heroes. Probably his greatest moment was bowling to Graham Hick and then seeing Chris Benham hold on to a catch, proving dreams can come true. His hero had scored just four. A few minutes earlier the scorebook had read Solanki c Warne b Griffiths 22. An England double for young Griff.

In the 144 year history of the Hampshire County Cricket Club only seven Island-born players have represented the club in the County Championship. The last of these being Ryde’s Bill Scott, back in the summer of 1927.

David Griffiths follows a great family dynasty of top sportsmen. His father, Adrian, played locally for Shanklin before moving to Wales and eventually captaining the country in the Minor Counties Championship. He was a formidable all-rounder with searing pace and a good eye for bludgeoning runs.

Jonathan Griffiths, David’s uncle, created local sporting history. He began rugby with the Sandown Hurricanes and ended up playing both rugby and rugby league for Wales. He also represented Great Britain, whilst at St Helens RLFC.

Closer to home, two of David’s grandfathers were also legends on the local Island cricket scene. Ron Griffiths played for Shanklin and the Isle of Wight and Roley Ringer was one of the founders of Arreton Cricket Club and is still active in the administration of our local game and the principal cheerleader when David plays first team cricket for Hampshire. The youngster’s stepfather, David Porter, was also a brilliant cricketer for both Shanklin and the Island.

David joined the family at Shanklin Cricket Club when he was five and was soon learning the game in the club practice nets. He became one of the youngest players at the club and achieved notable local success before joining the Hampshire Academy, at the age of 14. Soon he was gaining invaluable experience in the Southern League Gold Division, which is a higher standard than any Island team plays in.

Under the watchful eye of some experienced players, David Griffiths became a force in the Hampshire second eleven and last season, before his first team call up, had taken over 40 wickets with his fast-medium bowling. He was hoping to break the club record for a season but was summoned into the first team squad which was much more satisfying.

“I was due to play for the second team when I was suddenly asked to join the first team squad for a game against Durham. I travelled up and expected to be twelfth man but with West Indian test player Darren Powell still awaiting his work permit, I was put into the team in his place.”

In this match, at the ground also used by England, he took six wickets in the match, including a very commendable 4-46 in the first innings.

Other key matches followed and he played at Old Trafford against Lancashire and was suddenly facing world famous stars like Muttiah Muralitharan, Stuart Law, Dominic Cork and Sajid Mahmood.

Other games followed against Sussex and Worcestershire in which he did well. When faced with England’s leading run machine, Mark Ramprakash, of the dancing feet, in the Surrey team, he very quickly learnt a few lessons and these will have helped his game no end. In the Surrey fixture he almost helped Hampshire stave off defeat. David and Nic Pothas batted for fifty overs to try and save the match. Even the Surrey stars thought they had succeeded until a dodgy umpiring decision saw the downfall of Pothas. David, at least, hit his top score, so far, of 31 not out.

Before his big chance last season, David Griffiths was getting frustrated and one or two other counties had spotted his potential and were keen to sign him.

“Playing with Shane Warne has really helped my game and he does give youngsters a chance. Other top names like Bruce Reid and Shaun Udal have also been a considerable help in the improvement of my game.”

With less overseas players now being allowed into our English game youngsters like David will benefit and get more opportunities. If only this was the case in current British football?

Young county cricketers can earn a reasonable living but nothing like the scandalous money earnt by footballers. In the main, professional cricketers seem a lot more responsible and dedicated than their soccer counterparts. Many players are on summer contracts, from March to October, and then have to find work in the winter season, unless they are good enough to tour with England or continue learning their craft in Australian grade cricket, as David has just done.

Whilst in Australia he learnt that one of his keenest rivals for a first team spot at Hampshire, James Bruce, had retired from the professional game. He was still in his twenties but was offered more money to continue his summer job all year. This could really pay dividends for the career of David Griffiths. Some Hampshire players are also having spells in the Indian Premier League.

David’s dream is to play cricket for England. Already he has played several Test matches and one day games for the England under 19s. He also toured India with this squad.

Last July he was nominated as one of the country’s top cricketers of the month. Two of the others have already played for England at senior level, Stuart Broad and Luke Wright. The other two, Joe Denly and Adil Rashid, are also tipped for England. Good company to be in.

David Griffiths is a breath of fresh air in the world of professional sport. There is not a hint of arrogance, he’s quietly spoken, is working hard at his trade and his feet are firmly on the ground. On the field, it will be different, as it should be. Fast bowlers are a fiery breed – and need to be.