DORSET coach Paul Prichard has hailed the contribution that former Leicestershire off-spinner Jigar Naik has made as the county’s professional ahead of hosting Cheshire at Chapel Gate in the MCCA Unicorns Champions Western Division tomorrow (11am).

Naik is in his third season with Dorset and has taken 108 wickets across all formats in that time. But, according to former Essex captain Prichard, his value to the county cannot be measured in wickets alone.

“Jigar is one of, if not the best, spinner not playing first-class cricket at the moment,” Prichard said.

“It’s not just what he gives you on the pitch by way of his bowling, it’s his on-field education to the younger guys. Not only the spinners but the team as a whole.

“When we went down the route of saying we needed a professional purely because we were looking to play a younger team than had been the case we needed someone who could not only perform with the ball but who was also an excellent communicator to help them come through.

“That is something that Jigar has done absolutely fantastically.”

In addition to playing for Dorset and for Cavaliers & Carrington in the Nottinghamshire Premier League, Naik is a member of Leicestershire’s coaching staff and recently joined the ECB’s National Panel of umpires, already standing in several county Second XI matches this season.

“He is got a good coaching role at Leicestershire, he works with some young spinners at the ECB and he is doing his umpiring stuff so he has got plenty of options open,” Prichard said.

“But he’s still playing and enjoying playing for us. I think he is just enjoying the diversity of it all.”

Prichard, who is in his fourth season with Dorset, is enjoying his second spell in Minor Counties cricket having spent four seasons with Berkshire between 2002 and 2005.

Minor Counties cricket has changed in that time and Prichard believes it has been for the better.

“The big difference between when I played for Berkshire and now is the average age of the players is younger,” he said.

“I think the standard is probably better. It’s more competitive than it was and in that sense the rules that have been brought in about the age average of a team have worked well. It’s upped the standard for sure.

“The first-class counties around the Minor Counties, certainly in Dorset, have embraced Minor Counties cricket as a genuine competitive pathway for their better players and are happy to release them to play in Minor Counties cricket as and when they can.

“The quality of the younger guys coming through are more county Academy or Second XI standard rather than purely club cricketers.”

To prove the point two Hampshire youngsters, wicketkeeper Lewis McManus – who is Dorset born-and-bred – and opening batsman Felix Organ have played regularly for Dorset this season.

But McManus and Organ, plus batsman Tom Prest – a product of Dorset’s youth system – are all required by Hampshire this weekend and will miss out at Chapel Gate.

“Lewis, Felix and Tom all have Hampshire commitments this weekend. We are beholden to Hampshire or Somerset for the availability of some players but that’s understandable,” Prichard said.

“But when they are available it’s good for them, it’s good for us and it’s good for the standard of Minor Counties cricket.”