Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2008

The County Cricketers' Year - Luke Sutton

Interview by Tanya Aldred


Sutton during his 151 against Yorkshire, which helped bring recognition from the Lancashire members © Getty Images
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In the red-and-blue Old Trafford dressing-room, Luke Sutton unpacks his locker at the close of the season. The autumnal sun peers down on the ground, and as he talks the trams rattle by. He is a tall, handsome man, with a mane of impeccably behaved blond hair; intense, wide-set blue eyes, and shiny white teeth. He is friendly, thoughtful and almost unnaturally upbeat, with the quiet confidence of someone who has always been well liked.

Sutton was brought up, and learned his cricket, in Somerset, and played for them for two years. He moved to Derbyshire, where he was made captain in 2004. In September that year his girlfriend, Nia Walters, was killed in a car accident. Sutton had already bought an engagement ring and was planning to propose. Life became, for a while, untenable.

At the end of 2005 he moved to Lancashire, to fill the gloves of the retiring Warren Hegg. Some members gave him a muted welcome, reluctant to accept an outsider as wicketkeeper, but he flourished, making 151 not out against Yorkshire, the highest score ever by a Lancashire keeper. And on a brilliantly sunny October day in 2006 he got married, to Jude, in a church near Stratford-upon-Avon. They honeymooned in Morocco and New York.

He started the 2007 season looking forward to keeping to Muttiah Muralitharan for the first time, and with hopes of England recognition - he represented England Under-15 - and winning the Championship.

When I joined Lancashire it felt like the first day at school. I think I was the only new player, which was a little bit daunting, but you have to just suck it in, and I've been lucky - the players are a great bunch and very welcoming. I knew that if I had a bit of time to show the members how I play, and more importantly how I go about my cricket, they would soften, and I think that has happened. I'd like to think I show passion towards the team, which is really important to Lancashire members. I got a good round of applause for the county cap which I was presented with before the one-day game against Warwickshire in April.

It was a lovely surprise, but unfortunately I managed to get a golden duck, so I almost thought I should be handing the cap back. An uncapped player's cap has a rose that has not blossomed, a capped player's has blossomed. It's the same at Yorkshire.

Keeping to Murali has been by far the biggest challenge of my wicketkeeping career. I had two half-hour sessions with him before our first four-day game. I've never had to concentrate so hard on a bowler. If you slightly take your eye off his wrist, you won't read it properly, but as time goes on, the anxious feeling turns into a more excited feeling. I chatted to Kumar Sangakkara for a little bit and he said something very similar. In the four-day game against Sussex at Hove, I got a stumping and a catch when he bowled his doosra and I picked both of them. When you keep well to him you feel like you're the world's greatest wicketkeeper, but he'll quickly bring you down to earth when you think it's turned one way and it's turned the other.

When batsmen try to attack him and you know the chances are that you are going to get a stumping, obviously the heart-rate starts to go up a bit. You think: here we go. His deception is unlike almost anyone else's. I've never been able to watch someone so gifted. Games must be wonderful for him. He doesn't do any batting practice, just turns up and knows he is going to take five wickets. I've never known a bowler with the ability to get a wicket out of nothing, and he is such a lovely guy. I'm just very, very lucky to have experienced it. I can tell my grandkids about it.

I had used the same pair of gloves for about five years - they were like old friends to me. I sent them off to a man in Birmingham who used to repair them, but Gray-Nicolls gloves are different colours each year and they didn't like the fact that I was not using the right ones. They tried to help me by designing gloves which were exactly like my favourites, but they didn't feel quite the same, so I did use my favourites all of last year. This year I had to toe the party line - white for 2007. I started wearing them in in January, but if I ever start crouching down in the living-room practising, I'll ask my wife to shoot me.

I've had three knee operations; they are like hot dinners for wicketkeepers. I've broken my little finger numerous times, broken both my thumbs. I used to tape every single finger but now I only tape two. One of the joints on my right index finger is much bigger than the others - I've broken it maybe six times, and if I don't quite catch right, it just dislocates up and the physio has to come on and push it back in. But it keeps doing it, and the tendons get so weak that they pop up all the time and it gets sore, so I wear this plastic mesh which fits in my inner, and I put some padding and something like a sock on the little finger of my right hand.

 
 
I've had three knee operations - they are like hot dinners for wicketkeepers. I've broken my little finger numerous times, broken both my thumbs. One of the joints on my right index finger is much bigger than the others - I've broken it maybe six times, and if I don't quite catch right it just dislocates up and the physio has to come on and push it back in
 

I got a hundred in the first game of the season. I had to really grind it out, but it is good when you can do that when you haven't found your best rhythm. But then I got three ducks. I just couldn't believe what was happening. I don't think I've had that many first-ballers in my career. The first time it happened was just one of those things - a decent piece of bowling, helpful wicket, and you just think, oh well. The next one I played a poor shot and thought, "Oh Christ, not two on the trot." The third time I didn't think it could possibly happen again. The next innings I was thinking, just let me get through this one delivery - it was a televised one-day game. It was not something I'd like to repeat.

Not being selected for the Twenty20 games was a big disappointment. I so enjoy them and I've had a fair bit of success in the past. But I'm not really a slogger, and they didn't feel they could have Mark Chilton and me, so they picked Gareth Cross. It's probably the first time I've not been selected for six or seven years. It really knocks your ego, and you get a bit angry as well because you care about it so much. I went to all the home Twenty20 games.

I pride myself in being a positive person around the dressing room. I never want to be one of those who isn't selected and then mopes around. I find them exhausting. People close to you generally do cop it in these situations, but my wife is great and lets me have my little rant. Also, I run children's sports camps with a friend, and I think it is a really healthy thing to have something outside of cricket rather than sitting at home thinking about your forward-defensive.

The game with Sussex at Liverpool was the most fiercely fought first-class game I've ever played in. We played so well to get in a position to win the game, and then lost it in one session. The level of intensity was so high - I never experienced that when playing for Derbyshire.

I wanted to get 50 dismissals in the season, and I got 44, but bearing in mind we had a whole game washed out and a couple of other games virtually washed out, that's okay. I scored two hundreds this year, and generally I was pretty happy in my four-day cricket. My form got better in the second half of the season - the 66 not out against Durham at Blackpool on a horrific wicket against a good bowling side was probably the most satisfying innings of my career. In one-day cricket I started poorly, and just never really got going. I'm 31 now. You don't give up hope of playing for England, but I'm a realist, realistic enough to know it is probably slipping away. It doesn't bother me at all.

We went into the last game with a six-point lead. And I don't say this lightly, but The Oval was probably the most devastated dressing room I've ever been in. People were just in tears, and no one said a thing for probably half an hour. It's quite difficult to describe, because it was just a culmination of a lot of things coming together. The weight of expectation on us to win the Championship for Lancashire is very big, and sometimes it acts in our favour because we have tremendous support, and at other times it doesn't, because it's a different thing to Lancashire than it is to other cricket clubs.

Mike Watkinson went round the changing room shaking everyone's hand and hugging everyone, and bawling his eyes out. I think the first person to say something was Stuie Law, who stood up and said, "I know how we are all feeling but it was a magnificent effort, and we couldn't have given anything more and we should be really proud of ourselves."

We'd struggled the whole way through the game, mainly because of Mark Ramprakash, and then we just saw a little bit of light - even though everyone said you've got absolutely no chance of chasing 489. And as the final day went on we just got closer and closer. We were always losing wickets at the wrong time but everyone was contributing, we were getting partnerships going. Finally, to finish 25 runs short was heartbreaking. I remember waiting to go in to bat and watching other guys waiting to go in, and the best place to be was out there, because the tension was ferocious, horrendous.

Corky [Dominic Cork] and I have got a long history together of batting in very tense situations both for Derby and for Lancashire, and we tend to complement each other. I felt in control and in a good frame of mind, and I thought we could get us quite close - and then I got out. When I got back to the dressing room I smashed my bat into the seat so many times I don't know if it's broken or not.

I think that experience and the sense of nearly getting there and achieving something really great has opened up a door for us to say we can almost do anything. And that feeling of pain will pull us even stronger together. So it will be interesting to see how people react in 2008.

The anniversary of Nia's death wasn't all that long ago so it is always this time of year that you reflect on a lot of things, and I don't think you ever come to terms with it. I don't think it ever sits comfortably in your life, and it genuinely affects everything - everything - you do. Certainly my view of cricket and of life in general is that I will do something constructive for every minute of the day, because you don't know what is round the corner.

There have been times in the last couple of years where I have been in pressure situations and I've consciously thought to myself, compared to the intense feelings I felt when Nia died this doesn't compare. It jolts you, pulls you into line a little bit. You have to try and make it as positive a thing as you can. What is the choice? Drink yourself into oblivion, give up on everything - which at the time seems like a really good idea, because you haven't got the energy or the will to want to go on? If you've made a conscious decision not to do that, you have to pick yourself up and go on with it.

© Wisden Cricketer's Almanack