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August 9, 2006
Martin Bicknell, the Surrey and England fast bowler, has retired. Bicknell, 37, had enjoyed some outings in Surrey's first team this year, but had always said this was to be his final season and he finally called time on his playing career today, a few weeks earlier than planned. "Physically I was struggling," he said,"but it just felt like it was the right time.
"I'm relieved in a way," he added, "but also a bit sad. It's the end of an era." It certainly is. Bicknell has been with Surrey for the last 28 years, since he joined them at the age of ten. He always wanted to play professional cricket and that dream came true when he was handed his first county contract at the age of 17, following a successful season in the seconds.
In all he took 1047 wickets for the county, but he also fashioned something of a batting career for himself, and he's rightly proud of his 6740 first-class runs. He smiles: "I was almost an allrounder."
He also flirted with the Test stage, although he only had four matches at that level. His debut, in 1993 against Australia, was a most fiery baptism. "I was thinking this is so tough - Allan Border, Steve Waugh, David Boon, all at the height of their careers." Nevertheless, he had some success, taking four wickets, but injury wrecked his chances of a winter tour.
He then waited for a call but that only came a decade later. "I wasn't selected, it baffled me for a while." True, he had stiff competition from Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough because he was seen as a new-ball bowler, but Bicknell still finds that perception bemusing. "It's a bit of a mystery. I was actually most successful on the unresponsive pitches at The Oval."
He just shrugged and got on with being a strikeforce for Surrey, and helped them lift the Championship trophy in 1999, another career highlight. Then came the surprise Test recall in 2003, when he was 34. "I had just gone past my peak," he admits. "I was very concerned at how I'd get on." He need not have worried; he took a wicket with his second ball against South Africa at Headingley and then bowled England to victory in the final Test at The Oval.
"I had two very good performances and that left a good feeling for me. I had happy experiences of playing Test cricket." But should he have played more? "People will look back and think I was a bit unlucky. Obviously it would be nice to have played 60 or 70 Tests, but it's just one of those things. I was lucky to have played Test cricket at all."
Alan Butcher, the manager of cricket at Surrey, added, "Martin Bicknell is one of the true Surrey greats. He was integral to Surrey's success during the glory years between 1997-2003, and is one of those cricketers who are truly irreplaceable."
Bicknell may have called time on playing, but he intends to maintain his Surrey links, hopefully getting involved with coaching their juniors. "That would be very enjoyable." And he will be nurturing more youth as Head of Cricket at Charterhouse School, after four successful months with them.
When he's not involved in cricket, Bicknell enjoys his golf - and he has an impressive handicap of 2. He's back off to India in February for the World Cup of Golf, where former international cricketers compete for the honours, and he hopes to claim the title this year, after Kapil Dev pipped him in the inaugural competition this year. "It's a lovely day out," he says of playing golf. "I love the game. I could play every day."
And as for cricket, though he won't be playing every day, he will look back on his time with happiness. "I'm not leaving the game with any regrets."