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That club, improbably, was Gloucestershire - the same sepia-tinted institution boasting alumni such as W.G., Hammond and Parker, Procter, Zaheer and Walsh, yet whom collective glory had shunned with almost sadistic persistence. How instructive, after two pots had turned up all century, that five should arrive in just over a year, due reward for a side whose modest individual talents found ample compensation in an immodest degree of collective spirit and purpose.
One major influence was that perceptive, personable coach, John Bracewell, a rare fusion - in cricket at least - of deft man-manager and proud socialist. New Zealand's greatest off-spinner, appointed at Alleyne's behest, prefers to redirect the plaudits. "Jack [Russell] and Mark were the keys. Jack's the intimidator; Mark's calm, a natural leader. Paternal, extremely tolerant. Has a great way with people, works with them one-on-one, makes them think, 'he thinks I'm important'. They like him, respect him as a man."
Alleyne has scaled personal peaks, notably his 112 off 91 balls that routed Yorkshire in the 1999 Benson and Hedges final at Lord's. He became Gloucestershire's youngest century-maker at 18 and, at 22, their second-youngest Championship double-centurion after Hammond. Composed and inventive in the middle order, canny with seam, elasticated in covers and behind stumps, he was the Championship's most effective all-rounder from 1993 to 1999 (6,409 runs at 32.53, 216 wickets at 31.18). He has also won ten one-day international caps, with power to add. "When we played Surrey in the Super Cup, our first big televised game, Mark came on and nailed them down for ten overs," recalls Bracewell. "It was the defining moment for this side." Nevertheless, memories of Mark Alleyne the player seem destined to be less vivid than those of Mark Alleyne, captain and man.
Mike Procter was still celebrating his maiden county hundred when Mark Wayne Alleyne was born in Tottenham on May 23, 1968. Though he was bred in his parents' native Barbados, the most profound influence was his elder sibling, Stephen. When Stephen's hunger for education brought him back to north London, Mark followed him to the home of a family friend amid the orthodox Jewish enclave of Stamford Hill. "It was very difficult to leave Barbados," reflects Mark, who had just led Harrison College, alma mater to so many Bajan achievers, to the Under-15 Roland Tree Cup, "but I missed Stephen." Both won places at Haringey Cricket College, a spartan, council-funded enterprise for underprivileged youth. There they came under the keen, avuncular eye of Reg Scarlett, the erstwhile West Indies off-spinner; half a dozen classmates, remarkably, graduated to the first-class lists, including Warwickshire wicket-keeper Keith Piper. For Mark, though, those two years were primarily about moulding character. "There are 13-year-olds who know they're going to get chances because they go to the right school or university. I never had that confidence. We'd all had to battle. There was a sense of shared experience, and enormous pleasure when we beat a county Second Eleven, which was often. We inspired each other."
Stephen was captain, but rejection brought disillusionment. When Gloucestershire invited Stephen for a trial, Mark went along in support and found himself playing after others failed to show; he was the brother who impressed. The guilt lingers: "I wouldn't have played cricket if not for Stephen. There was some strain, but he never expressed any jealousy."
Mark soon became "Boo-Boo" - David Lawrence, Gloucestershire's genial giant of a fast bowler, was "Yogi Bear" - but the alias is rarely heard now. "We don't believe in nicknames," asserts Bracewell. "It's a public school thing, and generally derogatory. People at this club used to have a vested interest in mediocrity. Their humour was all about keeping guys down. It needed a clear-out, and Mark oversaw that. The attitude now is 'laugh with, not at'. Mark's also very aware of his social obligations. We don't want to sell him as a black man exclusively, but he won't let those kids down."
The transition from famine to feast, believes Alleyne, began at a team meeting shortly after he assumed the captaincy from Courtney Walsh in 1997, becoming the first Briton of Afro-Caribbean stock to lead a first-class county on a regular basis. "We talked about leaving a legacy at Gloucestershire. I got that commitment. We got rid of anyone who didn't want to be a part of it, no matter how brilliant he might have been. Courtney played a fantastic part in that transition. Unselfish, always gave his all." The baton is in safe hands.
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