August 25, 2000

Richardson's long journey hits new road in Zimbabwe

Mark Richardson was entitled to pinch himself and ask if it was really happening when he flew out of Auckland Airport today bound for Singapore, then on to Zimbabwe, as a member of the New Zealand cricket team.

There's no rags to riches glory in the Richardson story. Just years of hard graft.

His is the classic Kiwi tale of late developers flourishing and having a chance at international level through sheer persistence and dedication to the game.

While others have been talent spotted, academised, analysed and given every possible assistance from a young age to develop their potential, Richardson has walked through the graveyard of the game.

He left behind an ability as a left-arm spinner that threatened to see him thrown into the yawning hole that was the desert of spin bowling in New Zealand cricket during the mid-1990s. But when he might have benefited, he lost his control.

It didn't come back. There was a brief flirtation with medium-pace bowling but it seemed to observers that Richardson's career was done for.

He refused to lie down. There was a dogged persistence to his game that materialised in skills as a middle-order batsman and, on occasion, an opener.

Richardson did enough so that he couldn't be ignored. He surfaced in the ill-fated Conference programme. He was picked in national 'A' teams.

In the face of accepted philosophy about older players not being around the game anymore due to societal pressures, Richardson bucked the trend. He loved the challenges of cricket. He loved playing. He was a competitor.

Now those competitive urges which saw him chip a Brian Lara at the peak of his powers in 1995, daring to call him "Zoe", a reference to Lara's dismissal in the Bradman Trust game by Australian women's player Zoe Goss, have been rewarded with selection in the New Zealand team for Zimbabwe.

It was in that match against the West Indies that the notion of Richardson as a batsman to be respected emerged. He hit 103 for Otago from 115 balls.

Last season he had an especially productive year on the domestic scene, scoring 638 runs at 42.53 which included one century and five 50s.

Selection for the New Zealand 'A' tour of England was deserved, and on that tour Richardson took his chance with his most obvious demonstration of readiness for higher honours coming when scoring 212 not out against Sussex at Hove. But it wasn't a one-off. It was one part of a tour which produced 642 runs at 71.33.

Having decided to focus on developing the opening role, it was a welcome show of desire at a time when the national pool of opening batting contenders is more suitable for flatfish than sharks.

"I'm a bit apprehensive, but I suppose that is to be expected," Richardson told CricInfo before leaving Auckland.

"It has been a long road to get here. It's been made pretty clear to me that opening the batting will be my role and that it is the only place for me to break into the national side.

"I think they are quite keen to develop a right hand-left hand combination."

Richardson enjoyed the chance to concentrate and work on his own game in England. His development as an opener is based on his own observations, titbits he has picked up from several coaches.

Otago batting legend, and last year's Otago selection convener Glenn Turner was one.

"He's a good man to talk to about batting. He has different views on it to me; we are at different ends of the spectrum. But he is helpful and has loads of history to call on."

Richardson has worked hard on developing the mental side of his game.

"I've found a style that suits me. I just try to work hard through the new ball, get through it and then look at the rewards that are there for the next 70-odd overs until the next new ball.

"You can build an innings better when opening.

"It's a bit harder to start in the middle-order," he said.

While he didn't come into first-class cricket with a batting there was some in his background.

"Anybody with a bit of talent tends to be the best batter and bowler in his team at school.

"I could always hold a bat and I could do a job at No 10 for Auckland.

"But I never had the mental game," he said.

Once he concentrated more on batting for Otago, when attempting to rehabilitate his game after losing his bowling rhythm, he always looked at opening as a possibility.

"But as I started to play well I was protected in the middle order. I did have a couple of goes at opening, but with mixed success.

"I made it known that I was keen to open but it was a case of waiting for my opportunity," he said.

Over the winter past he realised when studying his form as an opener that his first-class average was in the mid-40s while his overall career average was in the mid-30s.

Should he do well enough to come into Test contention in Zimbabwe he won't be thankful that he will be making his mark against one of the lesser regarded attacks in world cricket.

"I know that Heath Streak is a bloody good bowler with speed and swing and while I've seen nothing of Henry Olonga or their other bowlers I don't really look at them as being any different to other bowlers.

"You could play your first Test match against Australia but go in against them with nothing to lose.

"There is no difference who you are facing, they all bowl good nuts," Richardson said.

"If things go well overseas, I will have put my case forward. I'm not a big one for setting outcome goals, more process goals and mental goals.

"I've mainly been working on little things that went well in England and once I'm on the plane I'll start getting more specific on outcomes.

"The big thing will be putting what I've learnt in 10 years of first-class cricket into doing well at the next level.

"I'll be crunching my game down so it is really solid, and concentrating on that," he said.

He's already forged a working link with coach David Trist and manager Jeff Crowe who had control of the team in England. He found them both useful sounding boards in his development and is looking forward to resuming his liaison with both of them.

New Zealand cricket history is chokka with late developers making an impact at international level. Is Mark Richardson set to be the latest addition to an often over-looked club of Kiwi cricket stalwarts?

Mark Richardson statistics:

First-class         Mat    I  NO  Runs   HS     Ave 100  50
Career               75  130  21  4141  212*  37.99   9  16
2000 England tour     6   11   2   642  212*  71.33   1   4