Cheers and farewell, Louie the mole
I was gutted to see the tweet come through from Lou Vincent earlier this month, announcing that he was pulling up his set of unordinary stumps and retiring to the hills and harbours of northwest Auckland. The self-described "cricket mole" has retired from a career of popping up in unexpected places.
Warkworth-born*, Adelaide-raised, AFL-loving Lou has always been one of the (disappointingly rare) characters on the Kiwi cricket scene, and that infectious personality and randomness extended far beyond the Antipodes to many cricketing citadels (and backwaters) including Worcestershire, Lancashire, Sussex, Khulna, Ramsbottom, Rawtenstall, Rochdale, Chandigarh, Oxton, Gaieties, Lashings and even a Phoenix Foundation music video.
I first came across him when I was the guy in charge of colour-coding jet plane lollies and washing groin protectors at Eden Park's outer oval, working for Auckland Cricket and hoping to avoid being dragged into the nets to face lanky Kerry Walmsley and an impossibly slippery Heath Davis.
This was the early noughties, and if there was a kid at the ground and Lou was around, he'd always find five minutes for a chat, a catch, a photo, a throwdown and a laugh. At a time when Kiwi cricket was nursing the raw lesions of the NZC v NZCPA apocalypse, you could not have asked for a more gregarious ambassador for the game.
The guy could play too. Audaciously at times. Demonic fielder, unafraid of getting horizontal. And always with a smile on his bloody cheeky dial. After a bevy of first-class seasons for his beloved Auckland, Vincent was first selected for New Zealand in 2001, padding up in the third Test on a bouncy WACA deck after massage therapist Matt Bell was axed.
Vincent turned in a simply brilliant debut ton on Australian soil, the first tourist to do so since the Bodyline series in the 1930s. Peter Roebuck described the 270-minute 104 as "the innings of a lifetime", made more special in the context of the match being the series decider, and because he was unaccustomed to being an opener for Grafton in club cricket, let alone against the world's best bowling attack.
His entrance into the Rodney Redmond Club of centurion debutants was the thing most often referred to in the wake of his retirement (he was the sixth New Zealander at the time - now there are eight). But there are many other memories of Lou's on-field deeds that also stick in my beige brain.
On the serious side, there was his epic 224 at the Basin in 2005 against the Sri Lankans, and his spanking ODI ton at Napier the following year against West Indies. That was also the series where he lost his strides in front of the terraces at Eden Park, revealing a commitment to fielding that could not be questioned, and a preference for sensible grey Bendon underpants.
Another quirky memory was when Lou was on the receiving end of a Jeetan Patel rifle-throw from the boundary at the World T20 in 2007. As he meandered innocuously through the covers at Newlands, the white leather missile crashed into his temple at 150kmph. His reaction? Fall over, get up, and smile. Most recently he let go an on-air expletive while mic'ed up and batting in a domestic T20 match, a brilliant little piece of television highlighting his filter-free inner monologue.
He played for New Zealand much less than he should have and his departure to the ICL was sadly the end of his international career. It need not have been. It was a messy shambles after shabby treatment in the wake of a fall-out with coach John Bracewell. Braces had not appreciated Lou expressing a preference for batting lower than No. 1 or No. 2 in the order.
Lou's battles with the black dog of depression made headlines too. His courage in openly discussing the demons in his head became a defining part of his public persona, evidenced by the suggestions that comes up when you search his name on Google. In a heart-breaking interview that aired on Campbell Live as he headed to the off-the-grid weirdness of the ICL he spoke about the "scary little hole" he had fallen into and said "complete self-doubt eats away at everything you do". Extraordinary to think he scored Test centuries with all that running through his mind.
So what lies ahead? He reckons he has some exciting projects on the cards - good, because his rock'n'roll career looks dead in the water if this Rawtenstall CC fundraiser concert is anything to judge it by. (His broadcasting muso dad Mike is a different story - he hosts Rock Dinosaurs on a local community radio station in Northland after a career on the wireless with ABC in Australia.)
Perhaps some not-for-profit work? More carpentry? A stay home Dad? Do the bright lights and bad coffee of a media career loom, as he is an excellent talent on radio, television, and the web? He'll probably let us know via Twitter from his deck in Kaukapakapa.
So in the absence of any acknowledgment or send-off from NZ Cricket - or even a mention from that neck of the woods - it's left to Kiwi cricket fans to doff our hats and say: "Cheers Louie - and thanks for a smorgasbord of cracker memories." We'll see you out there, somewhere beyond the boundary rope.
*Which is in NZ even though the Beeb reckons it is in Australia
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here