By Will Jennings
It was a bright May morning in Nottinghamshire, and 2nd XI prospect Will Fraine was having a net. Fraine was in good form, hitting a quick-fire half century the day before against Northamptonshire and laying the foundations for a routine six wicket victory for his side.
He had started his season strongly, seeking to extend his success by continuing his hard work throughout the winter months. However, this was to be no normal net.
Following his innings the previous day, First XI and former England Head Coach Peter Moores – who had been present during the game at Dunstable – had been impressed by Fraine’s talent, opting to invite him to his side’s training session at Trent Bridge the next morning.
While the previous day Fraine had been helping himself to boundaries against an inexperienced yet nonetheless strongly-assembled Northamptonshire attack, this time he was to be faced with the international quality of the likes of Jake Ball and Samit Patel.
The subsequent session was a watershed for Fraine. “I was thrilled about the opportunity,” Fraine states. “The training went really well and I thought I played nicely against the bowling of Ball, Patel and others.”
Indeed, the nets with the county’s premier side served to function as a career – and life – defining moment for the Durham MCCU captain.
“After the session was done I ended up having a 30 minute meeting with Peter in which he told me he wanted me to sign a professional contract and come to Old Trafford on the Thursday to make my List A debut against Lancashire in front of the Sky cameras.
“In the space of 48 hours I’d gone from being nowhere to gaining the career of my dreams.”
Fraine is visibly humble about his cricketing background. While he states he may have had no real score of conspicuous significance at the beginning of this season, the previous months had been characterised by a period of consistent success for Durham’s MCCU side, both domestically and on more exotic shores.
“In the winter I really tried to give it all I could in training to become a better player,” he says. “It seemed to pay off as I had a great start, scoring 96 followed by 112 against Sussex First XI in my first two knocks on the MCCU tour of South Africa. Obviously, this was an incredible feeling which provided me with real confidence going into the first-class games.”
Confidence indeed. Fraine’s remarkable success against the internationally-renowned Jofra Archer and Luke Wright was invariably monitored by a range of domestic counties, innings that were followed by a further 65 not out against Durham’s First XI side in a rain-affected first-class game in April.
Fraine’s inexorable rise continued as he was approached by several first-class teams following a continuation of his terrific form for the University side he was captaining.
This culminated in the advent of his Second XI success, propelling him into the spotlight of the county game and into a changing room with the very players he’d spent the previous few years merely watching on television.
“I’ve played all three games in the Royal London One Day cup since signing and haven’t felt out of my depth whatsoever. It’s slightly strange – it’s going to take a while getting used to signing autographs and taking pictures with people as really I still feel like I’m just a regular guy at university.”
Fraine’s success is testament to the enduring quality of the MCCU scheme, a long-standing system with its roots in the past and frequently neglected by many in a regrettable epoch of T20 and the shorter form.
He realises he would not be where he is today were it not for his coaches at Durham.
“I especially owe a lot to my coaches Paul Grayson and Gareth Breese,” he adds. “They’ve been amazing over my three years at Durham, developing me as a player and helping with anything I ever needed.”
Fraine’s progression has seen him emulate the path of former England captains Nasser Hussain and Andrew Strauss, both of whom graduated from Durham before going on to flourish at the highest level.
Fraine – who is about to complete a degree in Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity at Collingwood College – acknowledges the demands of his cricket, alluding to the hectic nature of the past few months and the difficult balance he has had to strike between the University library and the cricket fields around the country.
Nevertheless, such a balance is one he appears to have managed effectively, continually applying himself both academically and physically in order to reach the conclusion of what he describes as the best three years of his life.
With the season still in its relatively early stages, Fraine is relishing the prospect of both returning to captain his Durham side as well as continuing to feature for Moores’ team.
Whatever happens between now and September, his story provides welcome testimony to the strength of the University system and tells the tale of a player who epitomises the notion of hard work paying off.
Photograph: Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club