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Perhaps the most revealing feature of Damien Martyn’s retirement announcement is the admission that he felt unequal to challenge of being ‘more than 100 per cent committed, dedicated, disciplined and passionate about the game’, as among Australians is now de rigueur. The minimum dedication standard was recalibrated last year when Matt Hayden said that he was ‘one billion per cent’ behind Ricky Ponting; the writing may have been on the wall for Marto ever since.
Figures were never uppermost when you watched Martyn bat, playing so late that he almost seemed to be procrastinating, although so easefully that he enjoyed less credit for application and more blame for carelessness than most. Journalists harped on his cheap dismissal under pressure in the Sydney Test against South Africa in January 1994, although what really held him back was that he didn’t break 50 in 21 first-class innings after being busted to Sheffield Shield ranks. He did not return from the wilderness a better player, but he was certainly more conspicuously dedicated, having partaken of that philosophy of Stuart MacGill’s: ‘When in Rome, do as Steve Waugh.’ No Australian batsman in his time was easier on the eye; noone had lovelier trademark stroke than his back foot drive through the covers. But having learned that talent could only take one so far, I suspect he understood better than most the difference between subsisting on ability and genuine body-and-soul conviction.
About fourteen months ago when a sport magazine asked me to name an Australian team for the Ashes series of 2006-7, I included Adam Voges simply for the sake of a new name. I should be modest about my powers of prescience: I expected great things of Simon Katich too. Martyn’s retirement also provides another opportunity for Andrew Symonds, and further opportunity for Michael Hussey, whom it now seems sensible to promote to number four, and for whom billion per cent dedication is merely a preliminary bid.
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Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.