In Conversation: Zak Chappell

Wednesday 12th April 2023
& News

Mickey Arthur recruited well ahead of his first season with Derbyshire, and he’s been back in the market during the close season signing Haider Ali, Zak Chappell, and Matthew Lamb.

Chappell, a 26 year-old pace bowler, who was born in Grantham and has played county cricket for Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Gloucestershire sat down just ahead of the new season to chat about his career and his future with Heritage Officer David Griffin.

Good morning, Zak and welcome to Derbyshire.

Good morning and thank you.

I’d like to take you back to the start of your cricketing career, how did you initially become involved in cricket?

I went to a Stamford Town under-nine cricket game with my dad and it looked good fun. The bats and stumps were blue, the boys seemed to be enjoying it, smacking the ball everywhere and I just liked what I saw.

Many county cricketers were influenced by family members who were involved in the game; was that the case for you?

Yes, my dad was an avid player and he might have been a professional if he’d had the coaching that I had. He was good at tennis and squash as well as cricket, just a good all-round sportsman really.

Where was your formative cricket played?

I was lucky enough to go to Stamford Boys School, a private school and I was always ok at cricket for my age, but never great but I was fortunate to be coached by Dean Headley, who’d played for England and who took me under his wing. He recognised that I could bowl quite quickly and he nurtured me through those early years and on towards the time when I got my first contract at Leicestershire. I remember that he explained to the Leicestershire people that although I didn’t always know where the ball was going, I did have pace, was tall and therefore got the ball to bounce and he felt I deserved a chance.

The process sounds quite straightforward, but just how did you go from being a schoolboy cricketer to a county cricketer?

I was quite naturally talented but didn’t really know where the ball was going. I wasn’t overly academic and actually school kicked me out during A-levels but they kept me on for cricket which allowed me that opportunity under Dean and with his guidance and recommendation Phil Whitticase signed me for Leicestershire. It was a bold signing from him and I remain hopeful that his willingness to show faith in me then will result in me repaying that show of faith over the coming years.

Your first class debut was here at Derby in the final game of 2015 and you scored 96 batting at number 10; what do you remember of that match?

I hadn’t really performed that well in the second eleven but luckily got selected and managed a couple of wickets but the runs were a bonus. Thankfully, I didn’t really know what county cricket was like, or even what it might be like so I had no baggage and just went out and played. I had no real game plan with the bat but it just came off!

I batted a long time with Rob Taylor and Ollie Freckingham and our captain was Mark Cosgrove. I got two wickets and got Slats (Ben Slater) in both innings – I mention it to him occasionally but he’s smacked me about a bit since!

You had several years at Leicestershire before moving to Nottinghamshire. Why did you move to Trent Bridge?

I really enjoyed Leicestershire and there was no bad blood, but I was struggling to play games. I’ve not managed to play the number of games I’d have liked to throughout my career. I’ve always improved each year in terms of skills but staying on the park has been the issue for me. I felt in my last year at Leicestershire that my skills were in a good place but I saw going to Trent Bridge as the opportunity to realise my ambition of playing for England. But that really meant that I had to be playing regularly for Notts and doing well. I knew that even if I didn’t play that often in the first couple of years I would still be young enough to break through and make that impact.

The move didn’t work out as planned, I still picked up a lot of injuries, it was still hard to get in the Nottinghamshire team – they had two overseas bowlers plus people like Fletch (Luke Fletcher) but I don’t regret the move. It was right for me at the time and I believed my England ambitions were more likely to be realised at Trent Bridge.

Did you become a better cricket at Nottinghamshire?

Yes, I think my skills levels improved and I wanted to be given an opportunity but ultimately that didn’t happen there and now it’s clear that Derbyshire are moving in the right direction under Mickey Arthur and the opportunity to come here was too good to be missed. I heard great things about Mickey last summer and Derby pitches were usually to my liking and everyone that knows me and knows my career is aware that if I can stay on the park I can achieve things.

You also had a spell at Gloucestershire, but Mickey has talked about making Derbyshire the county of choice, Is that the view from outside the county too?

There’s a lot of positivity about Derbyshire and I’ve already enjoyed my first few months here without actually playing any proper cricket.

What have you been working on up to now?

I’ve always been physically strong and also mentally – I’ve had to be in order to deal with injuries. I’ve worked really hard on my fitness and feel really good but I’ve also done a lot of skills work with both Aj (Ajmal Shahzad) and Mickey and I’ve been working on one or two adaptations, but as the season gets closer I’m honing in on exactly what I want to be doing in a match situation.

Do you have a preferred format of cricket to bowl in, or do you see yourself as fully interchangeable, able to bowl well in all competitions?

I love all the formats for different reasons – four day cricket is the blood, sweat and tears cricket, loads of key aspects across the game, ensuring you never switch off, and there’s no better feeling after a four-day win than to sit and have a beer with your mates when you’ve all done something well together.

T20 is amazing because of the crowds – I love playing under lights and those big moments are what you play the game for, and the 50-over game is something of a hybrid of the other two, with skills taken from four-day cricket combined with the ability to do things at the death which you learn and adapt from T20 cricket.

Mickey Arthur’s talked about the importance of change, of freshening things up in a sports team. You’re part of that change along with Matt Lamb and Haider Ali; does that bring an additional challenge to your game?

I’ve watched Lamby (Matthew Lamb) this winter and he’s a top professional, and I think new blood coming into the team does help to raise the energy levels and I’m happy to be part of it. Having said that, just having players returning from a winter abroad also raises the energy levels too. Mickey’s right though and I’m enjoying settling in and meeting new people and getting to know my new colleagues off the field as well as on.

You mentioned Ajmal Shahzad earlier; how does a bowling coach make a positive impact on an experienced county cricketer?

In the winter we did a lot of technical work and that’s the foundation for the summer. Once the season comes along you get a lot of advance information about the opposition via the analysts and the better teams communicate that sort of information among the players quicker and more effectively. We play on all types of pitches in county cricket where one day you’re playing a T20 game on a 200-pitch and the next day it’s only a 150-pitch and both players and coaches have to reach decisions about how to play those conditions and the best teams are usually the ones which adapt quickest.

That’s interesting because I interviewed Chris Highton some months ago and he talked about the use of analysis and how cricketers adopt different ways of responding to the data they receive – some want in-depth information, others just need the basics. Are you an avid user of analytics or do you go with gut instinct?

Both, but the format of the game can have a bearing as well. As a bowler in T20, for example, you must pay attention and know for certain if players like to scoop at the death, or if they’re an arc hitter, or run particularly quickly between the wickets.

In four-day cricket, I want a high percentage of my deliveries hitting the top of off stump area which is so different from T20 cricket.

I always ask bowlers how they deal with the pressure moments in T20 cricket – a big crowd, a player looking to smash you all around the ground, and you at the top of your run up. How do you manage those moments?

Partly instinct – go with you gut, but if it’s the last ball of the game and they need four to win there’s plenty that can go wrong!

Pete Moores at Nottinghamshire told me a story about Andre Adams, after he’d bowled something like ten overs and taken four for 12 while at the other end another bowler bowled ten overs and finished with nought for 12 and when they came off at lunch the other bowler said ‘Dre always gets wickets, I don’t understand, we have the same figures apart from the wickets.’

Pete suggested going through every ball on the analysis and it showed that Adams forced the batsmen to play the ball 80 per cent of the time while although the other bowler had bowled economically, he’d done so without challenging the batsmen.

That illustrated to me how important it is to bowl in the right areas. It sounds obvious, but doing it is the key.

You mentioned your ambition to play for England but first you need to play plenty of county cricket and there is a strong pace attack here at Derbyshire. Do you expect to open the bowling?

I don’t want to make assumptions, but I am an opening bowler and I see that as my role in all formats. Mickey is big on clarity, everyone knows what their job is and once he’s decided what he wants from me I’ll be ready.

I suppose that clarity will be really important for you as a new player striving to make an impact here?

One hundred per cent. Too much can be added to cricket – and life – and often we have too much information, too much data, and we can overload people. When I’m bowling I need clarity, I need to be single-minded and I have to focus on one thing.

Away from the game, there are fishermen, financiers and more in the Derbyshire dressing room. What do you do away from the game?

I like crypto stuff; I enjoy that. I have been chatting to Anuj Dal about that although most financial advisers hate crypto!

What about work outside cricket?

In lockdown I did a lot of pizza delivery; I delivered every single day in lockdown because I struggle to sit and watch telly. But the crypto stuff is the fun stuff – it gives you an outlet from cricket which we all need.

It’s been a pleasure to hear from you and I’m sure all Derbyshire followers would want to join me in welcoming you to the county and wish you well this summer.

Thank you.

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