By CONRAD SUTCLIFFE
FORMER Devon batsman Steve Willis had is memory jogged reading the story about the Three Counties XI friendly against Somerset next month.
The fixture – Somerset against a combined Devon, Cornwall and Dorset side – ran for several years in the early 1990s before dropping off the calendar.
Willis remembers playing in one of the original games and having a painful brush with Somerset paceman Andre Van Troost.
Van Troost was rapid – England batter Mark Butcher claimed no one he faced was quicker – and Willis would certainly agree.
The late Peter Roebuck captained the Three Counties side and was indirectly responsible for putting Willis in the firing line.
“Andy Pugh was due to play, but he woke-up lame on the morning of the match and I got the call from Robey telling me to get down to the Taunton ground,” said Willis.
“I went in at number three an over or two before lunch after Jon Hardy and Graeme Calway from Dorset opened and put on a few.
“After lunch I made the mistake of hitting Van Troost over extra-cover. I then had the chin music as he was mightily cheesed off.
“Rob Turner and the slips were that far back, I nearly needed binoculars to see them. I took one on the glove and the friction tore back a flap of skin like a spud peeler.
“I managed to escape with my life and somehow made 52 – even hitting Mushtaq for a six over extra-cover.”
Willis and Van Troost had some prior history from a league game between South Devon CC and Seaton a couple of seasons earlier. "He hit me on the head that time," recalled Willis.
Another Willis memory of the game against Somerset was the way Calway treated Mushtaq.
“He hit the best shot I have ever seen in the game,” said Willis. “He put Mushtaq into the River Tone over long-on: straight bat, pure timing.”
Devonians Nick Folland and Mark Lathwell both featured in the Somerset side that day back in 1993.
Willis and Keith Donohue were the Devon representatives in the Three Counties team.
Steve Willis made his Devon debut in 1991 in a 134-run win over Berkshire at Bovey Tracey. He opened up with 75 in the first innings, but was out for a duck in the second.
Over the next four seasons Willis appeared 42 times for Devon in all competitions and played in three Lord’s finals. He averaged nearly 38 in two-day cricket with a career best of 127 not out against Shropshire at Shifnal in 1993.