India A v New Zealanders, Rajkot October 2, 2003

Mark Richardson: a self-made man

Mark Richardson reaches his century

Mark Richardson is the sort of batsman you don't really travel miles to watch, but want in your side when the going gets tough. On a scorching day at Rajkot he held one end up in a manner that would have made Gary Kirsten proud, defying all manner of pace and spin. Forget Kirsten, it would have made John Wright proud, and that means a great deal to Richardson.

"He [Wright] probably doesn't know it but he is my role model," said Richardson, pouring buckets of sweat after his marathon 381-minute stint at the crease. "I know when I was a kid and when I was playing backyard cricket, I wanted to be John Wright. Once I started batting, he's the guy I tried to model my game on a little bit. I admire the way he played and if I could go half as well as him, I'd be pretty pleased."

But it could not always have been Wright as a role model, for Richardson began his first-class career as a left-arm spinner. When that began to fail, he put his head down and re-invented himself. "The fact was that I lost my bowling. I couldn't bowl and I wanted to play first-class cricket. I started to play as a batsman and I would get very nervous waiting to bat so the best way to overcome the nerves was to bat first. I like the lifestyle of a first-class cricketer and I didn't want to work in a factory or anything. I had to find a way of performing so I just put my head down and really self-taught my batting," he said, as though it were a matter of snapping his fingers. Few people in the history of the game have gone from batting No. 11 to opening with such aplomb. Ravi Shastri springs readily to mind, but he again was a tough cookie mentally.

"Ninety percent of batting today was mental, wanting to survive the whole day. This is my first bat in a game for probably three months since we returned from Sri Lanka," he admitted. "We have done a lot of work in the nets but you can only do such much in the nets. I was desperate to get time in the middle and didn't want to throw my wicket away cheaply but I hope I haven't used all my luck up." People who watched him bat will tell you there was hardly any luck involved in the course of Richardson's unbeaten 128.

Then again, there's little reason to be surprised. Richardson had success in Sri Lanka on similar wickets. He puts his success down to a sound gameplan. "I just graft away. The wickets over in Sri Lanka were pretty flat. I put my head down and did what I know best. I don't struggle overly with the heat. I find it tough but I've never had trouble with heat stroke or anything like that. I was just sticking to my gameplan, and it hasn't changed in the last four years. I just stuck to that and hoped it would get me through." He admits, though, that his technique against spin needs working on. "I am not overly happy with the way I play spin but I have got a technique that sort of works. I have had a bit of success with it and I just stick with it."

There's so much talk of planning in this New Zealand camp that you might get the impression that the rest of the cricket world just walks out to the middle and has a whack. Pre-tour jousting began with talks of New Zealand's special training camps where the accent was on mimicking Indian conditions. After scoring a century the good old-fashioned way, Richardson did the world a favour by debunking some of these myths. "We've done a lot of work about being accountable for our gameplans. We've only really had nets so we have tried to make the nets as close to game scenarios as we can and I think that does help when you go out to the middle rather than just treating net time as a bit of a hit. I don't know if we are overly innovative but what we have worked on is being really, really dedicated in the way we train."

For some strange reason, that approach almost always seems to work.