Leaving brings the best out of Richardson

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The Independent Online

Close up, it is Mark Richardson's piercing, light blue eyes that dominate his lean, fit face. The curls in his hair and the stubble on his chin are greying even though his Test debut was only four years ago. But he was 29 already. Those blue eyes have served him well since then. Two innings over 13 hours 33 minutes in the First Test at Lord's were evidence that he is the best leaver of the ball in Test cricket. His dogged perseverance has produced a commendable average of 48.26 in 55 Test innings. He now stands at No 10 in the world batting rankings.

Close up, it is Mark Richardson's piercing, light blue eyes that dominate his lean, fit face. The curls in his hair and the stubble on his chin are greying even though his Test debut was only four years ago. But he was 29 already. Those blue eyes have served him well since then. Two innings over 13 hours 33 minutes in the First Test at Lord's were evidence that he is the best leaver of the ball in Test cricket. His dogged perseverance has produced a commendable average of 48.26 in 55 Test innings. He now stands at No 10 in the world batting rankings.

After England's thrilling victory, Richardson felt compelled to get away for a couple of days: "I was absolutely stuffed," he says. He did some desultory shopping with his partner, and they went to Madame Tussauds. He was coming down fast from an emotional high: 93 in the first innings, 101 in the second, which got his name on the board in the visitor's dressing room. He had been disappointed when he was given out lbw - wrongly - in the first innings. But he got over that: "that's not bad first up," he thought, especially after the bout of nerves before the game, following a poor series against South Africa recently.

At the start of his second innings his primary concern was not to be out cheaply. He didn't want four to follow 93 on the scorecard: "I worked to bat as long as I could, and, when I got into the 80s, I thought 'I might get a hundred here if I concentrate'. He was holding back the tears when it happened; then it was tea, applause in the Long Room, and fuss from the team.

"I wasn't really mentally there after tea," he says. He was caught behind off Stephen Harmison and immediately regretted not scoring another 20 or 30 and batting England out of the match. "That ruined it for me a little because it was my responsibility and I failed in that respect." Defeat by seven wickets; four would have been more just. "We were devastated," he admits. "We felt we were in it the whole way and we couldn't come good in the home straight. Defeat doesn't hurt so much when you know you weren't in the race. At Lord's we were in it the whole way, and that did hurt."

Modest is Richardson: modest height, modest build, and modest nature. He's open, easy smile, good talker, but, by God, he is a worrier, acutely conscious of failure, and, occasionally, of success. "From the minute I get out till the minute I get in again, I worry about the next innings."

The prospect of England's seam attack at Headingley is daunting, but he deliberately harnesses worry. "I'm motivated by fear of failure. I failed once as a spinner and I don't want to fail again as a batsman."

He is a legend in a brief lifetime; Richardson was the slow left-arm spinner who quit when he got the yips, but realised, after bumming around a bit, that all he wanted to do was play cricket, so he set about transforming himself. "I was an eight or nine batsman who didn't get behind the ball. I was scared - still am - but I knew I had to get over this instinct. I was good for 14 with a cover drive and a hook but then I'd be out, nicked to slip, driving into the covers with an open face. So I started to learn the value of leaving."

He admired John Wright and wanted to emulate him as New Zealand's opener, but his coach at Otago would not hear of it. Consequently, Richardson approached the selectors himself, when they were choosing an A team for the England tour in 2000.

He had already played in the middle-order for the A team, but he now said: "Look, if you want me, take me as an opener." He was 28 already, but they obliged, and he averaged 71.33 in 11 innings, including 212 on an easy wicket at Hove - in 11 hours. He made his debut for the Black Caps the following winter.

His batting was based on a negative principle: "You've got to learn to leave on length," he says. "If you're caught at slip playing balls that are missing the wicket, it's a mental error." He has a word of his own to describe this tactic; it is "outpatienting" the bowler. Despite scoring 68 of his 93 runs at Lord's in boundaries, he doesn't consider himself a striker of the ball. His boundaries were a reaction to good English bowling, which forced him to drive into the covers.

In the Leicestershire nets at Grace Road last week, Richardson experimented with small changes in his foot movement. There were no secrets, he said: "I always end up falling back on what's natural. That's blocking the shit out of it." We know now that to be true.

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