PAUL HORTON is hoping Lancashire will reap the rewards from his successful spell in Zimbabwe.
The batsman has spent the winter in Africa fine-tuning his game by playing first class cricket for Matabeleland Tuskers.
With still just over a month to go, Horton has already achieved his highest score in Twenty20 cricket and hit a stunning double century for the Tuskers.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said. “The chance to be an overseas professional in first-class cricket is a special opportunity to get, especially in a place like Zimbabwe where they are developing their cricket again with the aim of getting back into international cricket.
“It’s been a lovely challenge that has come at a great time for me. I’ve probably had a dip in first class cricket for Lancashire over the past two years, even though my one day form was good.
“It’s given me an opportunity to recapture my form and try to develop as a person and a cricketer.”
Young English cricketers often tend to spend the close season playing club cricket in Australia or South Africa.
But the Sydney-born star opted to spend his time playing in a much more competitive environment.
He added: “When you go to Australia or South Africa you go to play club cricket alongside amateur cricketers. This is first class cricket. It might only be Zimbabwe, but yet again there’s only five first class teams with 55 players. There are overseas professionals in each side who have all played first class cricket in England and there are international players who have represented Zimbabwe. We’ve got three or four in our side. It is a decent standard and the cricket is competitive.”
There is no doubt that Horton’s tenure in Zimbabwe has been a successful one thus far. He amassed 209 runs off 353 balls in the first innings of Tuskers’ four-day game against the Southern Rocks. From the five innings he has played in that form of the game he has accrued 522 runs, which have included two fifties and two centuries.
He’s also got 170 runs from six games in the Twenty20 competition, including the first two half centuries of his 20 over career.
This is something he is hoping to continue upon his return to England.
“With Lancashire I’ve been happy with my Twenty20 form even though I haven’t managed to convert the decent starts over the last couple of seasons.
“I was given the opportunity to open again out here and have probably learnt a bit from my previous two seasons of Twenty20 cricket for Lancs and learnt a bit more about myself and my game. I am quite happy with where I am.
“So, putting those things into place out here, I’ve been fortunate to get a couple of fifties and secure some games with seventies. This is something I hope to do for Lancashire this coming season.”
Although he will have missed most of pre-season training with his Red Rose colleagues in Manchester, Horton believes the time he will have spent in Zimbabwe will serve him well for the impending rigours of a demanding English county season.
He added: “My preparation is done here. As long as I am on top of my fitness and I am injury free that’s how physically I can be prepared for the season. But technically to be able to iron out things I wanted to improve and to work at my game there is no better situation than being in live cricket matches. I couldn’t think of doing it any better than in first class cricket matches. That will lead me up to the start of March and I’ll hopefully be back as soon as possible after my last game here – and have a little bit of a break, physically and mentally, before the start of what will be a hectic county season!
“The games are more incredibly cramped than they were last year."