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Cricket: Pepper hoping to impress again for Essex

PUBLISHED: 08:00 04 September 2018

Michael Pepper keeps wicket for Essex against the Indians in their tour match in July (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Michael Pepper keeps wicket for Essex against the Indians in their tour match in July (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo tgsphoto.co.uk +44 1376 553468

Michael Pepper was playing the sixth hole at the Gog Magog golf course in Cambridge when he received a call to hurry back to The CloudFM County Ground: Adam Wheater had damaged his shoulder and Pepper was required to stand in behind the stumps.

“Luckily I had my phone in my pocket or I wouldn’t have seen the message,” he said of Friday’s SOS.

“There was a slight panic at the time: how was I actually going to get to the ground? My car is broken, so I’m carless at the moment. Thankfully my mate was able to drive me down.

“Otherwise there was no panic. I guess it was another opportunity to impress. Thankfully at the moment my keeping has been quite strong. It goes like batting, it depends on form: sometimes you’re catching everything nicely, sometimes you’re a bit off it.”

The call might, he admits, have been “a blessing in disguise”. Out on the course, “I was striking it nicely, but not scoring well!”

Pepper is in the Essex squad for today’s Specsavers County Championship match against Surrey at Chelmsford (10.30am start) as cover for Wheater, who will leave it as late as possible before declaring himself fit.

Judging by his accomplished performances for the first team in the last two months, Pepper will not be found wanting if he is called into action.

After finally making it down the M11, and replacing initial stand-in Will Buttleman, Pepper took three top-drawer catches during the innings defeat of Hampshire.

One low down to his left in front of first slip to dismiss Liam Dawson in the second innings was particularly special.

“The fact it was his [Peter Siddle’s] fifth wicket meant I had to make sure I caught it,” he added.

It was never in doubt: he has proved confident and competent in his initial outings, with nothing going past him, not even a ball that looped up off Tom Alsop’s bat and which he took at the third attempt.

“I’m glad it looks like that,” he said. “Lately it’s not been too bad because I’m feeling quite confident in the moment. I think when I’m in the moment I forget about everything.

“I guess the confidence thing is looking for the edge, make something happen, especially with the keepers here: Wheater and Foster are high-class keepers and you have to make sure you stay up to their standards.”

Pepper, though, is a batsman-wicketkeeper rather than a wicketkeeper who bats. He has scored copious runs in the second team this season and introduced himself on the main stage with 68 runs from 74 balls against the Indians at the end of July.

“That was probably my most pleasing innings of the year so far,” he says. “It showed people what I could do.”

The 20-year-old, who turns out for Cambridge Granta in the East Anglian Premier League, has been playing for Essex on a ‘summer contract’ and been a mainstay of the second-team who left without him yesterday to travel to Chester-le-Street for today’s 2nd XI Championship final against northern champions Durham.

He has contributed 470 runs to help the team remain unbeaten in competitive red-ball games, averaging 30, with four fifties and a top score of 93.

“The frustrating thing has been that I’ve got to fifty and then got out. So that’s one thing to work on,” he said.

“Playing in the seconds has helped my development because a lot of the time you play against first-team bowlers. You often get two or three first-class bowlers in their opposition team, so you’re often facing an attack as strong as if it was a Championship game.”

Pepper hopes to return to Cape Town, and the Gary Kirsten Academy, for four months this winter with a professional contract from Essex in his back pocket.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure what’s happening yet, but there have been hints dropped,” he added.

“Hopefully next year I can try and cement a place in the first team, or at least get some more first-team experience, and some runs for them. Other than that I don’t tend to look too far ahead and set myself goals.”

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