North retires from Australian cricket
Former Test batsman Marcus North has sprung a surprise by announcing his retirement from Australian domestic cricket at the age of 34 and after a season in which he was named Sheffield Shield Player of the Year.
North will exit on a high after what he declared was his most enjoyable season, a summer in which he topped the Shield run tally with 886 at 63.28 and played in the first Shield final of his 15-year career, albeit an unsuccessful decider for Western Australia.
The resurgence of Chris Rogers as a Test player in his mid-thirties might have given North a glimmer of hope of resuming his 21-Test career if he maintained his form, but such a recall would have been a long shot and North said he could no longer maintain the fight and desire needed for a full summer.
His success during 2013-14 was all the more remarkable given that he struggled for runs last season and was dropped from the Western Australia side, but he reinvented himself as an opener and began this summer with three centuries from the first four Shield rounds. It resulted in the second most prolific campaign of his Shield career - his only better season was in 2003-04, when he made 984 at 54.66.
However, 2013-14 became a tragic summer for North away from cricket when his brother Lucas was killed in a road accident in late November. After spending some time away from the game following the accident, North returned for the BBL and then helped Western Australia to their first Shield final since 1998-99, the year before he made his debut for his state.
"I felt it was the right time to move on, in many ways, from family reasons through to the way I feel about my cricket at the moment," North said. "I really enjoyed arguably one of the best seasons in my career, but it's exhausting and I've got to the stage now where it's a big effort to maintain that over a season.
"When the times get tough and you feel that you're not going to be able to drag yourself out of it, well I've always said that's about time to move on and that's how I feel. The guys are in a really good place now and you're starting to see the influence of Justin [Langer, the WA coach] and his coaching group coming through. We're playing a tougher brand of cricket now and there's a tougher attitude within the group.
"It's their journey now and it's time for them to enjoy that. It's a huge bonus [to go out on my own terms] and I'm just so grateful to get another opportunity this year after last year and I'm thrilled I made the most of it. It would have been a fairytale finish to win a final as well, but to play in one is special to me as well. It reflects the cricket we played all year."
Although North will leave the game on a high, there is no doubt that the peak of his career personally was being a regular member of Australia's Test side during 2009 and 2010. North effectively replaced Andrew Symonds at No.6 in the Test team and scored a century on debut in Johannesburg, helping Australia to a memorable 2-1 series victory in his first trip with the team.
He followed that with a strong Ashes tour in 2009, when he scored two centuries and was fourth on the series run tally across both teams with 367, and overall his record of five hundreds in 21 Tests suggests a man who was at home at the highest level. However, North's major problem in Test and state cricket was his tendency for peaks and troughs - he matched his five Test tons with five ducks and a string of low scores led to him being axed during the 2010-11 Ashes in Australia.
For Western Australia, North was a solid performer for a decade and a half, and he took over the state captaincy from the newly retired Langer for the 2007-08 season, relinquishing it in October 2012. Langer, who played with North and then coached him, said North had always been a talented batsman who finally towards the end of his career found the consistency that had often eluded him in the past.
"You always judge a person's character by the way they come back from adversity and Marcus relinquished the captaincy, he was dropped from the Warriors last year and then to come back and have a standout season is a real credit to his character," Langer said. "Marcus was my vice-captain for about three years and took over from me as captain.
"Playing together, I always appreciated his talent and, while he would be the first to admit that he was always striving for consistency in his career, when he was on, he was a magnificent player to watch. Looking back on his career - and we've spoken a lot about this, firstly when together and now since coaching - he's always been striving for that consistency and the irony is that, now, in what has become his last year, he's probably found that formula which works so brilliantly."
Although North will not play for Western Australia next summer he is yet to decide on his BBL future and will make himself available for county cricket, while also exploring business opportunities in the UK. His departure makes it the second successive year that the season's leading Shield run scorer has immediately retired from Australian cricket, after Ricky Ponting topped the tally in 2012-13, his final summer for Tasmania.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here