July 23, 2013

Mascarenhas, the underused revolutionary

England might not have got the best out of a very handy allrounder in one-day cricket but Dimitri Mascarenhas was the first English cricketer to tap into the potential of Twenty20

In August 2010, Dimitri Mascarenhas posted a tweet that many felt ended his international career. What is certain is that since his foul-mouthed abuse directed at National Selector Geoff Miller, Mascarenhas never played for England again, whether that was to do with his tweet, or his cricket will forever remain a mystery.

Mascarenhas' expletive-ridden tweet was posted after Geoff Miller had watched him play at a county match and didn't introduce himself to Mascarenhas who then vented his anger at this, and the fact his good friend, Jimmy Adams, had not been selected for England. This Twitter faux pas reveals a lot about Mascarenhas, who today announced that he would retire from cricket at the end of the season at the age of 35.

It was first and foremost, a tweet of loyalty, to his friend and fellow Hampshire boy Adams. It may be a mythical adage that sportsmen take joy from their team-mates' success but Mascarenhas proved it to be true in this instance. That same loyalty has been exhibited through 17 years of faith to his one and only county.

But more deeply than that, the tweet revealed a frustration, not just at England but at authority. Mascarenhas is and always has been an enormously undervalued cricketer, and although I may well be biased, I believe that he can count himself extremely unlucky to have played as few times for England as he did.

He took 450 first-class wickets, an outstanding feat, but it was in the limited overs formats that his cunning and guile came to the fore - his subtle changes of lengths, pace and abundance of variations aligned him brilliantly to the T20 age. Indeed, Mascarenhas was the first England player ever to play in the Indian Premier League, and went onto play in T20 leagues in Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh. It wouldn't be pushing logical conclusions to call him a pioneer, especially for English county cricketers, of whom many have since followed his freelancing lead.

Arguably his most memorable years arrived at the end of his career. He played vital parts in Hampshire's victorious 2009 Friends Provident Trophy and last years Clydesdale Bank 40. But his crowning achievement will surely be leading Hampshire to two Friends Life t20; and he can now claim to be part of perhaps the best limited overs team in the country. Not to mention that in 2008 he was part of Rajasthan Royals' victory in the inaugural IPL; a tournament that will go down in history as changing cricket forever.

Earlier this year, in the midst of the IPL spot-fixing saga, I interviewed Mascarenhas in the hope that perhaps I'd get a few snippets of information from him on life in the glitzy league. It was a short, enlightening chat; not one that provided material for the most amazing article of all time, it was just friendly and cheerful. Nothing remarkable was said but what will stand out was an awful sense of resignation. He didn't express any anger or resentment towards any team or individual for perhaps not receiving the chances he deserved; he just seemed accepting of his fate as an underrated cricketer.

Would he play in the IPL again? He wasn't sure. Did he think he'd play in the Big Bash League again? He hoped so. Was he disappointed about his short England career? He didn't say so but sounded it. Selectors make their choices, he wasn't one of them. The whole chat followed a similar tone. Acceptance. Deflation. Resignation.

The only time he became particularly spirited was when he spoke of his own statistics. "I've got a really good record" he proudly proclaimed. Revealing perhaps another grain of disappointment at the lack of credit and attention he received.

He may well feel deflated or resigned to this fact, but on a purely basic level, in Mascarenhas' 17-year long career he managed the remarkable feat of bridging generations. He will be remembered as another "valuable county servant", a "loyal cricketer" and a "stalwart" but at the same time, he will be remembered, or at least should be remembered as somewhat of a revolutionary. He was the first and most definitely not the last, English county cricketer who realised the potential that domestic T20 leagues offered him, and with the blessing of his chairman and good friend Rod Bransgrove, pursued riches and acclaim with his ever-present professionalism.

He'll no doubt hope to receive another gig in the IPL next season; it was bitterly ironic that in his most recent stint there he was underused by a struggling Kings XI Punjab side. But if he doesn't play again, he will surely look back with warm regard at his time freelancing around the world, a much maligned but entirely understandable decision, one that will stand him in good stead in years to come.

Freddie Wilde is a teenage blogger based in Hampshire who first played cricket at the age of seven. He tweets here