Mark Christopher Ilott
August 27, 1970, Watford, Hertfordshire
Right hand bat
Left arm medium fast
A left-arm seamer, just over six feet tall, Mark Ilott became the perfect successor to the left-arm swing of John Lever at Essex. Born in Watford in August 1970, he made his debut for the county in 1988, having previously impressed for Hertfordshire Schools and Hertfordshire in 1987-88, at 16 being the youngest player (at the time) to represent the minor county.
Ilott established himself in the Essex team at the end of 1990 with a haul of 5-34 against Derbyshire, impressing enough to earn a late call-up for the A tour of Sri Lanka after Steve Watkin was ruled out through injury. At the time he was playing his second season for East Torrens District in Adelaide. He did well on tour, and a bright future seemed assured. However a stress fracture of the back robbed him of almost the entire 1991 season, and an operation was necessary in August of that year. He bounced back with 64 wickets in 1992, winning another A tour place, this time to Australia.
1993 saw Ilott win his county cap and play his first Test cricket. As 12th man for the first two Tests of a one-sided series, he saw England go 2-0 down before he made his debut in a much-changed side along with Lathwell, Thorpe and McCague. England drew the game and Ilott batted stubbornly and bowled with great heart to take 4-152 in the game. He proved his stamina again in the next Test, taking 3-161 in 51 overs of hard graft as England lost by an innings. Another loss followed at Birmingham as Ilott, in common with the other English seamers, was unable to penetrate against the strong Australian batting line-up.
Relegated to another A tour, Ilott responded in fine style, taking 37 wickets in South Africa at an average of just 15 (including 6-61 against Transvaal), and was 12th man for the first Test against New Zealand the following summer before another inopportune injury again sidelined him. However 59 more first-class wickets earned him yet another A tour, but he could manage only 12 overs in India as injury again intervened.
Ilott bowled beautifully in 1995, taking 78 first-class wickets as Essex relied heavily upon him. Career-best figures of 9-19, including a hat-trick of lbws, against Northants and match figures of 14-105 (gallingly Essex still lost) were the best Essex figures ever for a single innings. The key appeared to be an excellent command of swing combined with increased control, while a slightly altered action lessened the risk of injury. It was enough to warrant a recall to the Test squad for the tour to South Africa, where, playing in the rain-ravaged third Test he produced Test-best figures of 3-48. He bowled well, though without much luck, in the fourth Test but a thigh injury sidelined him halfway through and his tour was over.
There has been no recall to Test colours. Ilott took another 50 first-class wickets in 1996, but appeared to have lost his cutting edge at times, perhaps feeling the burden of carrying a weakened Essex seam attack. 1997 began well, but a heel injury impeded his progress and he struggled to recapture his rhythm. He was involved in an unsavoury, but in truth pretty harmless, pushing and finger-wagging incident with Robert Croft in the tension of a NatWest semi-final against Glamorgan. The presence of television cameras did them no favours and a £1000 fine and suspended ban followed.
A good 1998 season was followed by an injury-ravaged 1999 and 2000. Ilott found himself well down in the pecking order for a Test place behind younger contenders and a higher quality English seam attack than had been available for at least a decade. Perhaps a little short of pace to trouble the best players on Test pitches, Mark Ilott remained one of the most consistent performers in county cricket and, when fit, was still a tough proposition. However, as his fitness went through a difficult time he found it increasingly difficult to maintain a place in the Essex side and, at the end of the 2002 season - his benefit year - he was released while he still had the chance to find another county. Outside cricket he runs a co-operative hospitality firm and is a witty and likeable journalist, running his own website: www.markilott.com (Copyright CricInfo October 2002)
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