CRICKET: HENRY BLOFELD'S FIVE MEN OF THE SEASON
Tuesday 22 September 1998
IF Angus Fraser had not been let down by the batsmen, he would have won the series for England in the West Indies. With 10 wickets at Trent Bridge and another heroic performance at Headingley, he did more than just help England beat South Africa. But I have included him here for his batting. When he strode out on the last evening at Old Trafford, he knew there was a good chance he would have to survive 13 balls from Allan Donald if England were to escape. The consummate professional that he is, he took guard and, armed for mortal combat and sticking out his chin as far as his helmet allowed, he kept out Donald and walked back to the pavilion as if it was just another day's work.
The 1998 season saw Michael Atherton outlive his own obituary notices. It was courageous of him to fall on his sword after England had collapsed on the last day of the Antigua Test in April. He came back to England, an object of mild ridicule after the time he had taken off at the end of the Oval Test against Australia the previous August, to decide upon his future. He was not now helped by an early duck at Hove but from that moment his character shone through. His innings of 103 at Edgbaston was a masterpiece, his 98 not out at Trent Bridge, when he glared back defiantly at Allan Donald, was Victory Cross material. His 496 series runs against South Africa were a reward for character, guts and ability.
Middlesex will never be quite the same without Mike Gatting. Plump, developing towards the point of rotundity, Gatting has been Middlesex cricket since he took over the captaincy from Mike Brearley. Cheerful, cheeky, noisy, hungry (on and off the field), determined and extremely able as a batsman, as a captain and as leader of a dressing room, he captained England to the Ashes in Australia in 1986-87 and Middlesex to just about everything on offer. He will be remembered, most unfairly, for that infamous ball from Shane Warne at Old Trafford, most roundly because he was a legend in his own lunchtime, and most justly because he was an unforgettable character and a complete cricketer.
Character is the qualifying quality of my five cricketers for 1998 and no one's has shone through more spiritedly than that of Ed Giddins. Banned from the game for 18 months for failing a random drugs test when playing for Sussex at Tunbridge Wells in 1996, he served his sentence and returned a new man. He has been an outstanding new ball bowler for Warwickshire this year and has, according to the chairman of selectors, been considered for every Test Match, although he was not chosen for any or for a winter tour. He has accepted his fate with great good humour and has kept going. He is a shrewd thinker about the game and a highly articulate chap - maybe this has been held against him.
County cricket is a hard grind if things are not going well. A year or more in the shallows is hard to combat and, for the moment, Nottinghamshire are not winning anything. One of those splendid players, whatever the fortunes of self or side, who comes out to bat or field relishing the fight, full of enthusiasm and obviously enjoying every moment. Reddish haired and cheerful, he bounds in left arm over the wicket and keeps going long after others have given it best. With the bat he comes in at No 7 and goes for his strokes, ending the season against Gloucestershire with a vibrant 78. Tolley is my kind of cricketer and all power to his elbow. He and Trent Bridge deserve each other.
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