Cricket: New faces for the new year: Lathwell plans to run wild: Derek Hodgson on the cricketer with a refreshing penchant for plundering runs Somerset opener seeks new adventures while riches beckon Kiev rookie with a racket

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The Independent Online
THE blue of Bideford Bay is a reminder of Charles Kingsley and Westward Ho], of bold young men from Devon adventuring on the Spanish Main. Mark Lathwell lives by Barnstaple and if he bats as audaciously for another two summers for Somerset as he did in 1992 then he, too, will eventually disembark in Port of Spain and Kingston.

He looks Devonian. He has a sailor's face and eyes, a wiry, compact body, is the ideal height and build for a batsman, 5ft 7in and 11st, and greets the new ball like no Somerset opener since Harold Gimblett.

The western connections are, however, tenuous. He was born on Boxing Day, 1971, in Wing, Buckinghamshire, went to primary school there and moved with his family to Braunton as a boy. But the cricket was always there: 'I can remember my father when giving me a bat and tying a ball to the washing line in the back garden. That was my first practice. I can't say how I took to it, really. It seemed a natural thing to do.'

Learning to middle the ball also confirmed there was the crucial, natural co-ordination between hand and eye. Lathwell may not have realised at the age of eight that he was destined to be a cricketer, but his father, Derek, an engineer, was excited by Mark's potential.

'Both dad and my elder brother were cricketers so it seemed an obvious path to follow,' Lathwell said. 'I don't suppose it ever occurred to me that I wouldn't play cricket and, once we got to Braunton and my dad started organising colts' cricket it all became as much a part of my life as going to school.'

What school did not do for him was to enhance his playing career. However, Lathwell and his contemporaries were well provided for in club cricket, although this upbringing has fostered an attitude that would raise eyebrows elsewhere. 'I'd much rather play one-day cricket,' he said. 'I've been brought up with the 40-over game and I enjoy it more than first-class cricket.'

Lathwell was chosen for Braunton's first team at 14. His accuracy and hitting power widened his reputation but he reached Somerset almost by accident. 'A clergyman was taking his son to Taunton for a trial and asked me if I would like to come along,' Lathwell said. 'I suppose I would have had an invitation later but when I first turned up I wasn't expected.'

Somerset knew they had a boy of unusual promise but he did not fit the regular pattern, despite a year on the Lord's ground staff, playing for England Under-19 and becoming a contracted player in 1991.

'I was in the second team most of the summer and to be honest I didn't enjoy it much. I didn't like the atmosphere and as I don't mix easily I found it difficult to adjust to the longer game. I thought about packing it in but decided I would give it another season and see what happened.'

What happened was that Lathwell scored 591 runs as Somerset's leading scorer in their one- day campaigns, including scores of 93 against Worcestershire, 85 against Gloucestershire and 96 against Leicestershire.

In the first-class game he was less happy about three and four-day cricket, but he still had a sensational first season, starting with 76 and 79 against the eventual champions Essex in May, a 74 against Lancashire at Old Trafford that opened northern eyes, a maiden century against Surrey at The Oval - in all 1,176 runs in his first season at an average of 36.

'I know, everyone is saying that I'll find it that much more difficult in my second season, which may well be true,' he said. 'I'm just grateful to be going on the A team tour to Australia. As far as I am concerned when I start again in May that will be my third season.

'I have to be careful that I don't sound big-headed but county cricket wasn't as hard as I expected. First the pitches we play on are so much better than you get in club cricket. The ball comes on to the bat and, as far as the Championship was concerned, I was lucky in that the bowling I had to face only got better as the weeks passed. I didn't meet Allan Donald till August - he was quick - and I didn't have to face John Emburey too often. He was hard to get away.'

Lathwell actually enjoys facing the new ball. 'I like opening and I like to get on with the game. I know my weaknesses; I don't play spin too well but I haven't played many top-class spinners at my level of cricket. I'm working on it. I know they'll be saying they've got me worked out for next summer. It's up to me to stay one jump ahead.'

In the tradition of dressing- rooms, Lathwell was nicknamed 'Rowdy' on his entrance to Taunton for the obvious reason that he rarely spoke unless spoken to; since then he has graduated to 'Troff', a tribute to his prodigious appetite for food and runs. He sipped the wine appreciatively but said he preferred lager; no, thank you, he would not have a glass because he had an important match later that day.

Lathwell is a free spirit: 'I got one rollicking last season for laughing at misfields. I was told that the player responsible didn't like it, the team didn't like it and the crowd didn't like it, but I can't help it. I find it funny, even when it happens to me.'

He does not have any particular ambitions in the game other than to enjoy it. 'If I didn't enjoy playing,' Lathwell said. 'I would see no point in carrying on.' He may prefer the one-day game but gives the impression that he inclines philosophically more to Gower's school than Gooch's.

The new star in the west then went off to his other favourite test of hand and eye, a battle for second place in the league, Braunton Cricket Club against Chivenor Arrows . . . a darts match.

(Photograph omitted)

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