Cricket: Fifth Test: Re-entry for Maynard after years in outer space: Headquarters' attention drawn across Severn by most naturally talented batsman in county cricket. Martin Johnson reports

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The Independent Online
THE faraway planet that Lord Ted was searching for earlier this summer, the somewhere else in juxtaposition with Venus, must have been Glamorgan. Rumours abounded at the time that the first selectornaut was about to be launched towards Wales from the rocket pad in St John's Wood, but it cut no ice in the Principality, where they were involved in their own space exploration programme.

This was largely centred on the space between the selectors' ears, an area in which initial print-outs at mission control in Cape Caernarfon suggested no evidence of intelligent life. Until last week, that is, when, glory be, imprinted in the red dust and craters of the eerie landscape around Port Talbot lay the irrefutable evidence: an alien four-wheeled craft with a Test and County Cricket Board sticker on the windscreen and a set of footprints which the Welsh Office's boffin department subsequently identified as belonging to Dennis Amiss, an England cricket selector.

A generation of Welsh schoolchildren had been brought up in the belief that this particular creature had long since been extinct outside its natural habitat of Chelmsford and The Oval, but these are desperate times for English cricket, whose rulers finally decided it was time to equip their man with a map, a compass, and pounds 3.10 from the petty cash box to pay for the toll across the Severn Bridge.

As a result, Glamorgan's successful season has at last ended in representation in the England Test team, with the inclusion of the highly consistent Steve Watkin and the batsman considered by many sound judges to possess more natural talent than anyone currently playing county cricket, Matthew Maynard.

Maynard will today be playing in his second Test match at the age of 27, five years after his first one against the West Indies. On that occasion, England had just installed a new captain by the name of Graham Gooch, and Maynard is now in at the launch of Michael Atherton. This time, perhaps, he will see more of the new leader than just one game.

Maynard is more of an adopted son of Wales than a direct descendant, born, appropriately enough for someone who rarely deals in nudged singles, a six-hit away from Boundary Park, home of the Oldham football team. He was still in nappies when he moved to Anglesey, learning his first serious cricket in the North Wales League before he was recommended as a 16-year-old schoolboy to Kent.

He would probably have won a few more caps by now had he stayed at Canterbury, but after spending more than two years in the shadow of what Kent perceived to be brighter prospects in Graham Cowdrey, Simon Hinks and Laurie Potter, he moved to Glamorgan, which in terms of a future Test career was the equivalent of an umbrella salesman transferring his stall from Manchester to Madras.

However, Maynard's exceptional talent was recognised in 1988 although, given the number of players England called upon in that series against the West Indies, anyone who could hold a bat the right way up had half a chance. In the event, half a chance was all he got, dropped after one Test (3 and 10) at The Oval.

Maynard has always needed incentives (when his father told him at 13 that he would buy him a new bat as soon as he scored a century to add to all his 50s and 60s, Maynard went out and made 147 in 20 overs the very next day) and when England promptly removed his incentive after that one game, he signed up with Mike Gatting for the tour to South Africa in 1989.

It was not, as it might have been for some, an implied acceptance that he would never play for England again, as Maynard felt that even had he served his full three-year suspension he would still be the right side of 30 with time on his side. It was also more of a business decision rather than going off (as was the case with Gatting) in a huff. South Africa were not dealing in petty cash, and Maynard currently lives in some comfort in South Wales with his wife, Sue, and four- year-old son, Tom.

Very soon - and possibly while he is batting in this Test match - a second child is due, and Maynard is unequivocal in his belief that 'family responsibility has also made me much more responsible as a player'.

There was a time when Maynard's idea of a challenge was immediately to try to clear the fielder who had just been posted to deter another six over long on, often obligingly to smite the next delivery straight down that fielder's throat.

He still does not hang about (his century against the Australians last weekend took him 73 balls) but he is much more mature about shot selection these days, which is precisely what is required in a Test match. He also knows the difference between an Australian in a county game and a Test match and said after his hundred against the tourists at Neath: 'I'd be a bit naive to expect Merv to pitch the ball up too much when it comes to the real thing.'

Even if Merv does decide to bang a few in short, Maynard would appear to have the technique and temperament to cope. John Emburey, who was a late call-up into England's squad, and was Maynard's vice-captain on the unsanctioned South African tour, said: 'He plays exceptionally well off the back foot, he cuts and pulls, and he is just the type to score runs in the West Indies this winter. When you play against those lads, it's no use just hanging around, you have to have scoring shots against them. He's brave, too.'

Whether or not he is destined to enjoy a long Test career, however, is not quite as clear cut, according to Emburey. 'He may not totally have the defence to fight it out, as every batsman must on occasions. He needs a solid base around him in order for him to be able to play his natural game, and it will be interesting to see whether he is capable of making really big scores.'

Maynard's imposing form this summer has more than a little to do with Glamorgan's own prosperity, and the contributions of less charismatic players at the top of the order. Hugh Morris, himself a strong candidate for the West Indies, Stephen James and Adrian Dale have all scored heavily, enabling Maynard and Vivian Richards to come in lower down and dip in against tiring attacks.

It would be easy to categorise Maynard as a player who gets by on natural ability alone, but he is not known as a shirker for hard work and does not, for example, have a Gower-like tendency to search for a doctor's note when net practice is about to get under way.

He exudes confidence in his own ability, but without being a know-it- all, and has a reputation for being a good listener when it comes to advice from older players.

Off the field, Maynard is a gregarious unwinder who enjoys a pint and a cigarette and is what is known in cricketing jargon as a good tourist - which, barring a complete cock-up in these final two Tests, he looks odds- on to be able to demonstrate in the Caribbean this winter.

(Photograph omitted)

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