Tom Craddock is currently wearing a permanent smile on his face and it is easy to understand why.
He is eagerly anticipating the start of season, having been awarded a two-year contract with Essex towards the end of the 2011 campaign, yet a year ago the leg-spinner from Holmfirth near Huddersfield was spending his time studying intensely at Leeds/Bradford University where he was taking a Sport, Leisure and Culture degree course.
However, he caught the eye of Essex head coach Paul Grayson while playing for the Unicorns in the Clydesdale Bank 40 and the 22-year-old found himself offered a trial with the county which he passed with honours and was awarded a two-year contract.
“This time last year I was concentrating on dissertations and not really thinking about a professional career, so it’s been a whirlwind 12 months really,” he said. “Obviously I couldn’t be happier after getting the deal with Essex.”
It was a welcome and surprise offer. “I’d had trials with one or two counties previously but I was delighted when Essex offered me a trial,” added Craddock. “When Paul Grayson immediately told me that he would give me a few first-class games, it came as a bit of a shock to be honest. Even though you always back yourself, I didn’t think I would be as successful as I was, not at that stage anyway.”
The emergence of young left-arm pace bowlers Reece Topley and Tymal Mills captured the attention of the headline-makers last year but, while Craddock’s progress attracted less attention, his advance in a form of bowling that is sadly lacking in the English game is also worthy of praise and consideration.
By the end of the season, indeed, his seven County Championship appearances had brought him 22 wickets and he also forced his way into the one-day side.
Since then, he has left no stone unturned in his efforts to continue his impressive development. “Before Christmas I was concentrating on my fitness and then, early in the New Year, I went off to India for a three-week spin camp where I did a lot of bowling and a little bit of batting as well which was good,” he said.
“I’d been to India previously but that was just for a week but, this time, I was out there for three weeks. It was a completely different set-up to what happened last time and I really benefited from the experience.”
Craddock’s aims for the forthcoming season are simple. “Just to carry on where I left off last season really,” he said. “I didn’t want last season to end but, hopefully, I can hit the ground running again this time, the team can win a few of their early games and we can set a platform to have a really successful season.”