Nick Browne excited for University clash


Nick Browne’s eyes light up when he contemplates Essex’s three-day warm-up match against Cambridge MCCU, starting today (Saturday) at Fenner’s. It’s as if he’s just been bowled a juicy half-volley around middle and off that he knows is going straight back past the bowler. And no wonder: the left-handed opener has plundered four centuries in six innings against student opposition.

In those half-dozen knocks against the undergraduates of Cardiff, Cambridge and Durham MCCUs, Browne has amassed 571 of his 4,307 career First Class runs, and scored 66 and 87 in the two visits to the crease that didn’t pass three-figures. There is a not out and a retirement among those figures, too.

The early April games have enabled Browne to hit the ground running and lain the foundations for compiling 1,000 runs in each of the last three seasons.

“You start the season with a lot of hunger,” he says. “I do enjoy these games because you get a lot of time in the middle in preparation for the first Championship game.

“It’s about getting back in the middle rather than playing in a net. You’re getting your routines right, watching the ball, scratching your guard, all that kind of stuff you can’t do in the nets. You try to, but you can’t emulate that other than playing a game of cricket.

“If you can get back into good habits right from the off, batting a long time, then hopefully it progresses and you do it more naturally by the time the Championship season starts.”

But Browne adds a note of caution. “In these games you do tend to get a couple of bowlers who nip it with the new-ball. My dad used to say to me all the time when I was growing up, ‘Anyone can bowl you a good ball, just keep watching the ball’.

“It’s so true – I could nick off on Saturday first over, so you’ve got to stay concentrated every ball.”

One thousand runs has always been his season’s target, but it’s not his primary aim for 2018. “It’s actually not,” he confirms. “I’m going to change it this year. I think for myself to move on to the next level, to gain recognition for the Lions or England, I’ve got to score four or five Championship hundreds, and if I do that the runs tally will take care of itself. If I can score five hundreds, that are match-winning hundreds, then I’ll be happy.”

Along with Tom Westley and Aaron Beard, Browne spent seven weeks after Christmas in Cape Town where he had a series of one-on-one coaching sessions with former South African opener Gary Kirsten.

“That was brilliant for me,” says Browne. “It was nice to train in front of someone who doesn’t know me whatsoever. He sat me down and I had to talk about my cricket, which I’ve never done before, talk about my stats, who I am, how I score my runs . He stripped it all back.

“At the end of it for someone of his calibre to say I can potentially play at the next level, I’ve got the ability, was a massive confidence-booster. He didn’t change a great deal, but the reassurance that you’re good enough to go on was brilliant.

“He was impressed with my defensive game, which I’d tried to stress was one of my main strengths. There were a couple of things, like scoring a bit quicker, but overall it was mainly making my strengths better.”

Essex start the Specsavers County Championship as defending champions next Friday at Headingley. “I’d love to top last season,” says Browne. “To win 10 games out of 14 was quite remarkable. I think we can win it again, 100 per cent. We’ve got a winning team, made a couple of good signings, I believe, and, yes, we can do what we did last year.”