Former Perse cricket captain reflects on making Essex breakthrough
18 Sep 2018
Rising cricket star Michael Pepper (OP 2016) was given a very special 20th birthday present this summer – a first-class debut for Essex in the Specsavers County Championship.
The former Perse 1st XI captain, who batted at No 3, kept wicket and bowled for the school team, was given his opportunity in a draw at home to Somerset in June.
Michael’s cricketing trajectory should come as no surprise as he made his Minor Counties Championship debut for Cambridgeshire while still at The Perse. He also captained the Cambs U17 team in the Minor Counties final against Buckinghamshire in 2015.
However, he was not fazed by lining up for Essex alongside the likes of Alastair Cook – former England captain and the country’s leading Test run scorer – Tom Westley and Ravi Bopara in the Division One encounter.
He said: “It was on my birthday, so it was a nice surprise. The game before, away to Lancashire, I’d been 12th man and I’d been 12th man in the white ball 50-over competition, so it made it far easier to come into the team for my first game. Having played with a few of the team in the second team, it just felt like another game of cricket at the time.
“It feels special being around players like Alastair Cook and Tom Westley. It makes you raise your game trying to get to their standard, so it was good playing with them.”
Michael has gone on to play further Championship and T20 matches for Essex this season, but also savoured playing for the county against India in July prior to the tourists’ Test series with England. He scored 68 against the world’s No 1 ranked Test team in helping Essex clinch a draw.
He said: “When I was in the field, seeing the likes of Virat Kohli (India captain) come out to bat was pretty special, but once you’re playing you don’t think about it too much or get caught up in the emotions of it.”
Being surrounded by experienced players at Essex has proved to be a valuable experience for Michael, who believes he has progressed well throughout the campaign.
He added: “My aim first of all was just to secure a contract. I wasn’t expecting to play for the first team at all, so I’m very happy with how things have gone. I tend not to have any checkpoints, but my aim is to secure a regular place in the first team – whether that’s as a wicketkeeper or batsman with the red or white ball – but there’s not a timeframe.”
Michael, who also plays club cricket for Cambridge in the East Anglian Premier League, has not forgotten his roots and during a recent visit to The Perse, he praised the grounding he was given in cricket at the school.
He said: “A lot of the coaches I had from the start are still at the school. It’s nice to see the pitch and it always brings back fond memories because of the amount of time I spent growing up and learning everything at The Perse.”