Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2008

The County Cricketers' Year - Richard Montgomerie

Tanya Aldred


'I am very lucky to go out in this situation' © Getty Images
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A few miles north of Brighton, up near the windmill, is a modern detached house on a quiet road. Bats, cricket clobber, and benefit raffle prizes burst out of the spare room. On the hall window is an RSPB sticker, in the garden some half-full bird-feeders, and beyond, the downs. Sitting on the sofa is Richard Montgomerie, eternally boyish, with short hair and owlish glasses, the only concession to age crinkles round his eyes like the folds of a fan, and a sensible jumper with a smart shirt underneath. A very cultured accent hides a very private man.

On one of the bookshelves in the sitting room, among a few Wisdens, sit the medals he and his wife Fran have won - for marathons, for rackets, and for cricket, where he has been part of the most successful Sussex side in history. Three Championship medallions rest in their cases. The newspaper cuttings of his 2007 season lie on the sitting-room table.

Montgomerie, a hardworking and stoical opening batsman, made his debut for Northamptonshire in 1991, and joined the staff full-time after leaving Oxford University. He moved to Sussex in 1999, and grew into one of the heartbeats of the team. He is perhaps best known for attacking his right boot with his bat before each delivery. The foot survives remarkably intact, with just a round lump on the second-smallest toe.

At 35 he started what turned out to be his final season hoping to retain his place in both forms of cricket while working on his postgraduate certificate in education. In the first Championship match of 2007 he made 175 against Kent.

I'm absolutely in love with the game, I don't think I'd have lasted this long if I wasn't. It has been very good to me, especially at Sussex. I couldn't have really asked for a better start to the year. At the end of the 2006 season I was feeling pretty good, and often form continues from one season to another. I wouldn't say it was easy, but I felt fairly at ease with my cricket, and it's taken a lot of time to get to that state.

My team-mates didn't say I was too boring. The members were nice, but they are very good, they don't get on the backs of players. I remember going to Yorkshire once and knowing we were going to win because the supporters were so rude about their team.

I don't really know if I got close to playing for England. There were certain years that I did extremely well, but I never got on an A tour - but then I never quite strung enough seasons together to feel I was unlucky not to be picked.

Peter Moores did ring me up this year, but he'd got the wrong Monty and I explained that I couldn't bowl left-arm spin that well but that I'd very happily play; he was quite amused, we had a very gentle conversation. I think the fact that I had a bad two or three years at Northants when I was in and out of the side meant I lost any focus on playing for England because I was focusing on not losing my job.

I faced international bowling this season and it is very exciting. Not getting out instantly against them, you do wonder... but it's gone now. I'm not too jealous. It was very exciting facing Murali. I'd never faced him before. It was a great challenge and good fun on a slowing pitch, so I could read him off the wicket a bit and make it look like I could read him. It's great, come next year and someone in the pub asks what it was like to play Murali, I can tell them.

I've faced some very good attacks this year - Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham. There are more spinners around than when I started, which was the end of the big quick era. I love playing the quickies. When I started there was a spate of people getting injured fingers, but whether that was the pitches, or the balls, or the fact that gloves weren't as good as now I don't know.

 
 
Peter Moores did ring me up this year, but he'd got the wrong Monty and I explained that I couldn't bowl left-arm spin that well but that I'd very happily play; he was quite amused, we had a very gentle conversation
 

I think making 50 against Lancashire in the second innings at Hove against Anderson, Murali, Mahmood and Cork was my best innings of the season, and the 195 against Warwickshire saved the game and got us four crucial extra points - if we'd had to score more bonus points in the final game, there would have been more pressure. I felt very focused - you occasionally get that because you know exactly what to do. It was very disappointing not to get 200, but we saved the game, so I felt a massive sense of achievement.

I was very pleased with my catching, because I don't remember dropping any catches at slip - at short leg you do drop catches, but they're not really catches, just chances. Chris Adams and I got 27 catches, and in the Championship only Marcus Trescothick caught more.

I've probably fielded short leg more than anyone else in the world, except maybe someone in India, but I am very glad I'm not going to field there again. You've got to be completely mad. When the bowler is getting tired, with certain batsmen you suddenly get a bit more nervous, but if you are brave and watch the ball you tend to be okay. You are always in the action, and for someone who doesn't bowl that is important. It makes it more interesting for you and makes you harder to drop.

When Mushtaq bowls, we have a reputation for appealing and ooh-ing and ah-ing a lot, but I don't think we are sledging. I don't think there is too much of that in county cricket.

I start teaching chemistry and some cricket at Eton in September 2008. Sussex offered me a one-year contract at the end of the season, but I'd always intended to start at a school next autumn, which meant giving up this year. If Sussex had said they desperately wanted me or offered me a contract with more money or something then I would have definitely considered it, but I was ready to stop.

I went and taught a couple of lessons and had a kind of interview around May. The teachers wear black blazers and grey trousers or tails and white bow-ties, so I will look very different. From whites to white bow-ties. We will live on the site. I went to boarding school as a day boy and my dad taught at Rugby, so I'm used to that world.

I'm excited about the new challenge, slightly scared, and then the emotion of leaving cricket is quite high at times. You're never going to have that again. Never going to have the team fun and banter in the chemistry department at Eton.

Chris Adams and I were laughing because various coaches have their things. Terry Jenner, he coaches a twitch, apparently, and we were joking that I'll be coaching that you have to smash your foot, otherwise you can't play a cover-drive. I tend to hit the base of my shoe rather than my toe, though occasionally I miss, and I've done it ever since I can remember. It's my trigger, it's what gets me ready for the next ball. It is a natural thing, something I'd feel lost without.

It was a strange season, because no side managed to break away and win. The at-times revolting weather probably had something to do with it. All the top six probably feel they had opportunities, and we were lucky that we were playing Worcester, who'd been already relegated, last. We didn't play as well as the year before or 2003, because we didn't win as many games, but Mushtaq still got 90 wickets and three batsmen still scored a thousand runs.


Montgomerie scored 1000 runs to help Sussex retain the Championship in 2007 © Getty Images
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The end of the season was magnificent, and it was very tense on that last day because Lancashire did so well. You never believed they could get 489, but as they got closer and closer, even though you said, 'If they get it they've done wonderfully well,' you started to think, 'Gosh, surely they can't do it?'

With two wickets left Fran and I went for a walk around the ground, because it was all getting a bit too much - and we couldn't watch on television because Sky had moved it to interactive. The ninth wicket fell when we started, so we went for another walk, and halfway round there was a big cheer from the crowd - it was all up on the scoreboard, there were radios going and people were on the phone, so we ran back. I picked up the trophy, which had been in various places between Hove and The Oval during the day, with Chris Adams - we tried to get Rana Naved too but he had disappeared.

I had led the team off at the end of the game, and everybody clapped me off, which was amazing. I try to shut out any regret, really - it was very emotional, I had to just try and enjoy it rather than let it all get too much. It was moving, very moving, just very humbling.

I am very lucky to go out in this situation. The average county cricketer will go out without playing half the season, and that could have happened to me next year. If I'd had two or three bad games a youngster would have taken my place, and rightly so.

So there is a regret, because I know that I am good enough still, but because as a team we have been so successful in the last few years I achieved what I wanted to achieve. And personally it was my second-best season after 2001 - maybe I was more relaxed because I was aware that it could be my last year, and also the benefit distracts a bit. It is a strange but accepted thing - if you thought about it too much then it would be begging, but hopefully you have good events that people enjoy. I don't much like being the centre of attention.

I haven't cleared out my locker yet: I will in the next couple of weeks. I think that will be quite difficult - we moved dressing rooms in 2003, so it has always been my locker and next year someone else will be there. And I have always been No. 7, because we were the first people to be numbered - and maybe not next year, but at some stage, another man will.

Richard Montgomerie scored exactly 1000 runs at 40.00 in the 2007 County Championship, which Sussex won. He made 574 runs in ten one-day games.

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