Lancashire step up their pre-season preparations with two matches against Kent at Beckenham, starting on Monday.
The teams are planning to play a two-day match and a seperate one-day match, weather permitting, over the first three days next week, starting Monday.
Lancashire are taking 15 players to Beckenham: Chapple (capt), Brown, Cheetham, Chilton, Croft, Cross (wkt), Hogg, Horton, Kerrigan, Mahmood, Newby, Parry, Procter, Smith.
The squad are being joined by Andrea Agathangelou who arrives in London at the weekend, but will be without Gary Keedy and Stephen Moore who are playing for MCC against Nottinghamshire in Abu Dhabi.
From Bulawayo to Beckenham is a path that it would be fair to assume is not very well trodden, but Paul Horton is someone who will have completed that route in the next couple of days.
Horton has spent his winter playing first-class cricket with Zimbabwean franchise Matabeleland Tuskers, but he will continue his preparations for the new county season with three days of cricket on the outskirts of London.
The 28 year-old decided to move out of his comfort zone of a winter playing grade cricket in Australia in a bid to improve his form in the four-day arena, so he jumped at the chance to head to Africa.
And he loved it. Not just on the field, but off it too. He had the time of his life.
“It was a fabulous experience. I had a wonderful time in a beautiful country,” said the right-hander, who returned to the North West approximately two weeks ago.
“I went there with a big goal to improve my four-day form because I haven’t been quite as happy with that over the last two seasons with Lancashire. I went there to score a heap of runs in first-class cricket.
“The lifestyle angle was a massive part of it too because it was a third world country with massive differences to England. Those differences, added to playing cricket out there, not only makes you a better cricketer, but a better person too.”
Horton was just one of a number of household names in county cricket to travel to Africa to play in a re-emerging domestic structure, with the likes of Paul Franks, Neil Carter and Ryan ten Doeschate all featuring. One of Horton’s team-mates was young Essex wicketkeeper Adam Wheater.
Prior to this week’s Final, which the Tuskers were featuring in, Horton was the four-day competition’s leading scorer with 773 runs from nine matches at an average of 70.27, including a maiden double century and another two tons.
He also scored an encouraging 170 runs from six Twenty20 matches, including the first two scores above 50 in his career.
“When I arrived in Zimbabwe, I said that I wanted to be the leading run-scorer in the country by the time I left. I achieved what I set out to do,” he continued. “There were already guys with two to three hundred runs under their belts because I arrived after a couple of rounds.”
Horton agreed with the suggestion that the standard of domestic cricket in Zimbabwe is somewhere between first and second team county cricket in England.
“That’s not a bad way of putting it,” he said. “It’s certainly nowhere near the standard of first-class cricket in England, but there are some cricketers who would be able to play in our competition.”
Horton revealed that everyday life left him somewhat surprised at times, but “there was never a problem, and I never felt unsafe”.
He continued: “The power went off quite regularly – and, with that, the traffic lights may not work every now and again. But it’s a third world country, which has been through a lot, especially recently.
“It made me realise that I’m very fortunate to do what I do for a living. If you never play for any other time bar Lancashire, you have nothing with which to compare it to. You wouldn’t know anything different to turning up at Old Trafford every day, which is a pretty good place to go to work.
“In my career, I’ve made a point of trying to play in different parts of the world. Even when I’ve gone back to Australia, I’ve played in Sydney, in Canberra, in Queensland and in Perth.
“All these things help you to adapt to different situations and different scenarios. Zimbabwe was just another one added to that.”
Horton has now turned his attentions fully to Lancashire matters, and the intensity of pre season goes up a notch against Robert Key’s side.
“We’ve been fortunate over the last week and a half with the weather in that we’ve been able to train outside,” added the man who captained Lancashire on a number of occasions in one-day cricket last term.
“But we’re ready to go now. There’s only so much training you can do before you want to get into a game situation.”
Lancashire’s first LV= County Championship match is against newly promoted Sussex at Liverpool on April 8.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh