Middlesex’s Joe Cracknell is confident his new wicketkeeper-batter role in the Royal London Cup will raise his game long-term – and potentially propel him into the county’s red-ball side as well.
Cracknell’s career has so far largely involved operating as a powerplay hitter in T20 cricket, but the 22-year-old is aiming to modify his style after being handed alternative duties for Middlesex’s 50-over campaign.
With first choice keeper John Simpson involved in the Hundred, the dual tasks of taking the gloves and batting at six have passed to Cracknell, who claimed two dismissals and scored 44 in the Seaxes’ opening fixture against Leicestershire last week.
“Batting at number three in T20, your role’s always changing,” said Cracknell. “You might have to carry on momentum in the powerplay or take five balls to get yourself in and go from there.
“But in this competition you can give yourself 10, 15 or even 20 balls to assess conditions and batting at six, you’re not forced to play a big shot early, which you might have to do in T20.
“It means you can basically play from the other end. Adapting and batting in different conditions will make me a better player in three or four years’ time.
“I’ve focused on T20 because that was where I was getting picked. Now I’ve started getting myself into the 50-over side, it’s like ‘where’s the next step and where can I get better?’
“I’ve definitely got aspirations to play in the four-day team, it’s just maybe a slower process, but it’s something I’ve thought about more this year than when I first started playing.”
Keeping wicket is by no means an alien concept to the north Londoner, who has so far made just a solitary County Championship appearance, in a specialist batting role last season.
Cracknell performed the keeper’s role intermittently at club and second-team level, although he had only done so once for Middlesex’s senior side prior to the start of this year’s Royal London Cup.
However, he enjoys the extra responsibility that comes with the job – as well as the challenges posed at Radlett, where deliveries behaved erratically at times during the Leicestershire clash.
“It was a baptism of fire,” Cracknell admitted. “It’s not at the start when they’re carrying through nicely around waist height – when it’s slower balls bouncing twice before they get to you, that’s when a keeper is tested.
“In 50-over cricket you don’t catch a whole heap of balls, so I see myself more as a stopper than a conventional keeper but it’s a new and exciting challenge and one I’m relishing.
“You start to see the game in a different way and Eski (captain Stephen Eskinazi) said ‘I trust you to move the field if you think someone needs to be a bit tighter’, so I also have more responsibility.”
Cracknell is one of three graduates from the successful North Middlesex club side currently featuring in the Seaxes’ 50-over line-up, alongside seamer Ethan Bamber and leg-spinning all-rounder Luke Hollman.
Six months Cracknell’s junior, Hollman has progressed to become a first-choice player in all formats this season – boosting hopes that other young players can follow suit.
“It’s all well and good getting an opportunity, but taking it’s another thing and Luke is a perfect example of that,” added Cracknell. “He’s grasped the opportunity, almost made that position his and made himself undroppable in all three formats.
“As a good mate of his, that’s nice to see. The coaching staff are really willing to back youngsters and stick with them.
“The step to first-team cricket can be quite daunting, but it’s reassuring to have familiar faces, people who know each other off the field as well as friends. That’s something I think will be really important for Middlesex in the next few years.”