Adam Wheater, Essex’s young match-winner when they thrashed previously unbeaten County Championship second division leaders Northamptonshire by 171 runs at Chelmsford, has spoken about the value of the time spent playing cricket in Zimbabwe last winter.
The 21-year-old Wheater hit the highest score of his career and his first century for Essex during their second innings, and also featured in a county record sixth wicket partnership with captain James Foster.
Wheater’s 164 beat his previous best of 126 made in February this year when playing for Matabeleland in Zimbabwe’s domestic competition, and his 253-run alliance with Foster broke the previous county best of 206 set by J.W.H.T. Douglas & J.O’Connor against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in 1923 and equalled in 1962 by B.R. Knight & R.A.G. Luckin against Middlesex at Brentwood.
Wheater arrived at the crease with his side on 49 for 4 but, by the time he left the middle, Essex had moved into a powerful position at 316 or 6.
“I suppose I was a bit lucky really because the ball was doing quite a bit at the start of the innings but it was a bit older by the time I went in and it didn’t do as much,” he said.
His century arrived from just 95 balls including a six and 18 fours and, by the time he was dismissed, he had faced a further 48 balls and collected three more sixes and another four fours.
“I decided to play positively from the start which is the way I’ve been playing this season. It’s worked for me so I saw no reason to change my approach really,” added Wheater. “It’s nice to get my name in the record books with Fozzie who played really well and, probably, the partnership changed the game and put us in a good position to go on to win the match.
“There’s a lot of Championship cricket still to be played but, if we can get a few more wins, then things can change around very quickly and we could yet be in the promotion shake-up.”
Wheater said the experience of playing in Zimbabwe last winter has improved his game.”The beauty from a professional point of view was that I got another season under my belt rather than waiting for the English summer to come around and I felt I also developed my character,” he added.
“I worked hard out there and learned a lot from working with different coaches and players and the experience of playing in all formats of the game. It put me in good stead for our domestic season and I have a lot to thank them for.”
Coincidentally, both Wheater and Foster were born in Whipps Cross Hospital, not far from the county’s former traditional home in Leyton although some 10 years separates their birthdates.
The former Millfield School student was previously regarded as Foster’s wicketkeeping understudy but, when the latter was also given captaincy duties last year, Wheater recognised that his opportunities as a gloveman would become even more restricted. He had made just two Championship appearances in three years before the start of this season.
However, Wheater staked his claims to be considered purely as a batsman with some noteworthy displays in Zimbabwe and then pre-season with Essex.
“It would have been an incredible achievement to have ousted Fozzie from his wicketkeeping role and I wouldn’t even have thought about it because he’s such a good player who performs to an incredibly high level week in and week out,” said Wheater.
“That’s why I figured that if I was going to play in the side, it would have to be as a batter. So I went away and worked hard on my game. Now I’ve made a big hundred but it’s only a start, it’s not a career.”