By the bye
Another Indian season gets underway, so Samir and Fox start to quiver with anticipation while I get wistful as another English season comes to its close. As they look forward to new arrivals, I reflect on departures.
Graeme Hick has gone. One day this summer, he was dismissed cheaply and walked calmly back to the pavilion. For it not to hurt when he was out meant that it did not matter, and if it no longer mattered, it was time to step away. It was entirely his own choice to end one of the greatest county careers of all time.
Few, though, have the luxury of real choice.
Mushtaq Ahmed, the legspinning lynchpin of Sussex’s recent championship-winning sides, faced surgery and rehab to have a chance of playing again and decided retirement was less trouble. Sussex already know how badly they will miss the irreplaceable Pakistani and will do well to get an overseas player even half as influential next season.
I’m not betting against Darren Gough taking up Yorkshire’s invitation to play in next year’s Twenty20, so Derbyshire’s much lesser-known Kevin Dean is as yet the only other one committed to retirement. His legendary feat was hitting the winning runs when Derbyshire beat Australia in a thrilling three-day game in 1997, though he was actually a bowler. At the beginning of the decade he was one of the most effective bowlers in the Championship, though he was never in the frame for England: the specialist medium-pacer’s main prey is the merely adequate, a species never seen in the international highlands but still common on the world’s domestic plains. Having been injured for more of the last couple of seasons than not, he has faded out of contention and has given up the unequal struggle.
However, I suspect a few others who have been released by their counties will be unable to persuade anyone else to hire them for next season.
Surrey’s Ali Brown still holds an amazing world record, having scored 268 for them in a 50-over game. He was by far the best one-day batsman in county cricket for several years, but the selectors gave him inexplicably few chances for England. Apparently they thought him flaky and unreliable, but this only deepens the mystery about his non-selection as those were the chief characteristics of the batsmen they actually picked. Now 38, he has only played one innings of note in two years and seems a spent force. If Surrey no longer want him, it’s hard to see who else would.
Northants have released Lance Klusener and Jason Brown. ‘Zulu’ was Man of the 1999 World Cup, a time when ODI crowds round the world thrilled to his spectacular firework displays; nowadays he lights a desultory couple of roman candles and hands out some sparklers before ambling off to collect his pay. With the end of the Kolpak era in sight and an ICL connection, he seems an unattractive prospect. Brown was once thought to have a future as an England spinner, but it never came to pass and after 13 good and decent years the pitches have dried up. Nine championship wickets at a cost of 80 this season will not be much of a recommendation to a county which is bound to be less spin-friendly than the one which plays at Wantage Road.
Some younger men will also be going, having failed to make the grade and leaving no lasting mark, but all of the above have provided many memories for those who saw them play. They have my thanks and best wishes for their futures.