Veteran Ealham motoring on
It was Henry Ford who said: "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80." That will be music to the ears of Mark Ealham, who, though hardly ancient at 36, certainly qualifies as a veteran of the county circuit.
While the Nottinghamshire all-rounder admits he has one eye on retirement, 18 seasons in the domestic game have not dulled his appetite to improve.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Twenty20 Cup, which has been embraced wholeheartedly by young and old alike since its conception three summers ago.
Not only has it captured the imagination of cricket and non-cricket watchers in this country - indeed, all over the world - but it has served as a classroom for cricketers to expand their repertoire of skills.
"I'm still learning things at my age," Ealham told ecb.co.uk. "I really enjoy the one-day game - I suppose that's my forte - and there are always new skills to pick up.
"It's already been shown that Twenty20 helps people learn their one-day skills - bowling yorkers at the death or slower balls and trying to hit every ball when you're batting.
"I usually like a bit of a bash when I'm batting, but it's not quite so much fun when you're bowling. You've really got to be top-notch with the ball otherwise you'll get punished."
The reference to Ford, the man behind the mass production of the car, is apt, for Ealham - like a trusty old motor - is one of the most reliable performers around.
The bodywork may not be in the condition it was 15 years ago, but the engine still runs as sweetly and as economically as ever, and those who have captained Ealham will tell you he is more than capable of putting in the miles with the ball.
Such qualities were central to Nottinghamshire's County Championship triumph last year - not to mention their lifting the Second Division trophy 12 months previous - and Ealham insists he still has a role to play in the Twenty20 Cup, supposedly a competition for the younger generation.
"It is a young man's game - that's what I keep trying to tell the coach, but he doesn't seem to listen," Ealham joked.
"There's still the odd place for the old-timers like me and hopefully I can play my part this year.
"It's a competition we've not done so well in over the last few years, and I think you need a good start, so if we can get off and running hopefully we can do better this time around."
Attendances for the Twenty20 Cup, which have exceeded even the wildest expectations, show no sign of being any less impressive this season, with Notts reporting huge interest in the clashes with Durham, Yorkshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire at Trent Bridge, the first of which takes place on Tuesday.
"It's where you get your biggest crowds of the season, so all the players enjoy it," said Ealham.
"It's a good atmosphere, it's played in high spirits, and you have license to play your shots.
"There is pressure when the matches get tight, but overall it's pretty relaxed and you can just go out and enjoy yourself."
Ealham may still be learning about the game itself, but his is an example which many younger players would do well to follow.
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