Ben Sanderson insists he owes much to Shropshire for rekindling his love for cricket and helping him enjoy a successful return to the first-class game.
The seamer, now established as a consistent performer with the ball for Northamptonshire, enjoyed a successful spell with Shropshire after being released by Yorkshire, his home county, in 2011.
Sanderson took 68 wickets for Shropshire in 13 Championship matches over three seasons between 2013 and 2015, with the quality of his displays eventually leading to the offer of a contract from Northamptonshire.
He’s since not looked back and played a starring role at The County Ground last season, taking 60 Championship wickets for the second successive year to help Northamptonshire seal promotion to the first division of the County Championship.
Sanderson, 31, has now claimed 233 first-class wickets at an impressive average of 20.06, becoming renowned as one of the most reliable bowlers in the country.
He regularly showcased his ability while wearing a Shropshire shirt after Kevin Sharp, well aware of Sanderson’s talent from their time together at Yorkshire, offered him the chance to play Minor Counties cricket during his spell as coach.
“We both left Yorkshire at the same time,” recalls Sanderson. “Kev gave me a call to come down.”
He remains grateful he did as joining Shropshire helped revive a career that had previously seen Sheffield-born Sanderson make three first-team appearances for Yorkshire.
“I really enjoyed my time with Shropshire,” says Sanderson. “It’s what set me up and got me back loving cricket again really, playing for Shropshire.
“I just enjoyed playing my cricket again because it was a bit tough the couple of years I had just before that period.
“I owe a lot to Shropshire for getting me loving the game again really.”
Sanderson was quickly made to feel welcome by his new team mates, including Richard Oliver, Shropshire captain at the time he signed for the club.
“Rich gets on well with everybody,” he says. “He was a huge character when I first came down. I always got on well with him. He’s such a talented cricketer batting wise. I never saw him struggle against anybody quick or turning it.
“There were some good youngsters coming through Shropshire’s Academy at the time like Ed Barnard and Joe Clarke.
“Joe was really young when he first played and you could tell he was a good cricketer. His brother, Robbie, was always decent as well. There was a good variety of young lads coming through like Joe Carrasco.
“Knowing Kev also helped and getting on well with him from Yorkshire meant it was all good and I fitted straight in.”
Sanderson took 7-50 in the first innings of a Championship match against Berkshire at Whitchurch in his first campaign as a Shropshire player.
Even better was to come the following season when, in July 2014, he grabbed seven wickets in both innings as Cornwall were beaten at St Austell, with Sanderson ending with stunning match figures of 14 for 108.
“That was a good one,” he remembers. “It was nice weather down there as well. My parents came down to watch the game, but there were only two days of cricket as we beat them in two days. They had a nice day on the beach on the last day.”
Sanderson relished being asked to bowl long spells and feels his time with Shropshire helped develop his overall level of performance.
“I bowled a lot of overs for Shropshire,” he says. “I learned quite a lot of skills by doing that, having the chance to actually bowl long spells for full days.
“Sometimes in second team cricket, you don’t really get the chance to do that because there’s so many bowlers and people have to give everybody a go.
“I learned how to bowl long spells and get up the next day and do it all again really. It certainly helped in terms of me progressing to the level I’m at now.”
Sanderson combined playing for Shropshire with club cricket for Rotherham Town and working on a building site before his eye-catching displays attracted interest from the first-class game.
He played several matches for Worcestershire’s second team before Northamptonshire made their move midway through the 2015 season, with one of his first appearances coming in a tour match against the Australians.
Sanderson reflects: “I was lucky that they had a couple of injuries and Dave Willey was picked for England so he missed a few games.
“With their small squad, they obviously needed bowlers. I had actually played for Worcester against Northants in a second team game and got quite a few wickets at Kidderminster on a flat wicket.
“I knew the bowling coach at Northampton. He was quite impressed so I got his number and kept in touch with him.
“I started playing a couple of second team games for them and then a couple of first team games before playing in a tour game against Australia.
“I did all right and it propelled from there. Getting Shane Watson out and the team performing well against Australia really got my name out there a bit more and put a bit more pressure on Northants to sign me full time.”
Initially handed a two-year contract, Sanderson soon started to hold down a regular place in the side and continues to really enjoy playing for the club.
“I wouldn’t have thought my stats would have been what they are to be fair when I first started playing at Northants for the first team,” he admits.
Sanderson has enjoyed many highlights, with pride of place helping Northamptonshire win the T20 Blast at Edgbaston in 2016 – he removed both Ben Stokes and Paul Collingwood as Durham were beaten in the final – and then promotion from division two of the County Championship last season.
“The T20 victory is up there as one of the best days I’ve had,” he confirms. “I think I had only played one T20 game, against Worcester at their place, and then got left out.
“I got back into form in red ball cricket and was selected for finals day. I only got told the night before that I was playing, so I didn’t have much time to get my head round it, which probably helped in the end because you just jump straight in then.
“Once you’ve got the ball in your hand and your mark, you don’t think about anything else and the nerves go.”
As for last year’s promotion success, when Sanderson was the club’s leading wicket-taker, he adds: “To do it last year when nobody expected us to – I think we were bottom of the table halfway through – but we then kickstarted and got a lot of belief.”
Sanderson still keeps a close eye on Shropshire’s fortunes and retains fond memories of his three seasons playing for the county.
“I follow Shropshire on Twitter, so I see what’s on there and follow the scores,” he says. “I keep in touch with a couple of the lads. James Ralph messages me quite a bit, usually taking the mickey out of me on Facebook!
“I obviously see people like Joe Leach and Joe Clarke from playing against them – and I always have a good catch up with Kev Sharp when we’re at Worcester.”
By Stuart Dunn
Picture: Former Shropshire seamer Ben Sanderson took 60 County Championship wickets to help Northamptonshire gain promotion from division two last season. Picture courtesy of Kyle Andrews/Northamptonshire CCC