Barnett romancing the Stone for last fling

Stephen Brenkley
Thursday 16 January 2014 05:45
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Just when you thought the bald, 40-something bloke with the bizarre batting stance had disappeared into the sunset forever there he is on the horizon again. Kim Barnett is wandering back to these parts.

We should have known. The man who was once the youngest player of his generation and stayed around long enough to become the oldest was never likely to go that easily. It is likely to be a brief visit, but on Wednesday at Stone, Barnett will open the batting for Staffordshire against Surrey in the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy.

This will help to give the scorecards in the following morning's papers a familiar look once more. There, at the top of the order, as he has been these past 25 summers or so, will be K J Barnett.

"It'll be fun, I'm looking forward to it and playing Surrey will add to the occasion," he said. "They're a big club, and it's a great draw for us to have." Barnett's career has come full circle. He is back home where it all began. He started his cricket in the North Derbyshire and South Cheshire League with Leek. At 15, he had a solitary game for Staffordshire. The big time soon came knocking.

He was playing for Derbyshire at 18, was captain at 22, played briefly for England, went on a rebel tour to South Africa, and just kept batting. He changed his style so that he took his stance a foot outside leg stump and later he moved to Gloucestershire.

Then, suddenly, it was over. Last July, there was unrest at Gloucestershire. Some of the players were not happy with the way that the coach, John Bracewell, was running things. Barnett was among them.

He had previous in this. His lifelong affair with Derbyshire had ended in initial rancour, but that was a case of lovers growing apart, realising they had different objectives.

Gloucestershire sided once and for all with Bracewell. After mid-July, Barnett – his calf injury easing the issue – never played again. He had been, as it happened, in wonderful form. In what turned out to be his final Championship match he carried his bat for the fourth time in his career (182 no) and in his last county innings, a C & G quarter-final, he made 106.

"I'm glad I went out like that and was not on the downward slope," he said. "That's always got to be a concern for someone playing so long, that your level of performance fades." He scored three first-class hundreds in 2002 as well as his valedictory C & G effort. His average was above 50. It was a sparkling advertisement for the merits of ageing sportsmen and for looking after yourself when young.

"I have said that I could have gone on for two or three or more seasons and would liked to have done," he said. "I was enjoying it, I was playing well and I was fit." But in March, the news he must by then have anticipated arrived. Gloucestershire were releasing him from the final year of his contract. At 42, it was too late in every sense to get another county.

A confidentiality agreement with Gloucestershire precludes his speaking about their parting but he seems content. "I have no bitterness, have no regrets. I was very lucky to have played so long – 25 years as a professional sportsman is a long time. It's good to be at home again, seeing more of the kids. And I've got plenty of jobs to do, that might not have got done before. The wife might tell you a different story."

Barnett has signed as a professional with Checkley in his old league. Their first opposition were Leek. He received a wonderful reception. "They were genuinely pleased to see me. It was touching." His first two league innings yielded 12 and 16, though he took 5 for 22 with the ball. He is opening in both disciplines. He will play for Staffordshire all summer (the Minor Counties championship begins at the end of this month) and coach their Under-21 squad, which he will also captain. That should take him back some more.

Barnett scored 28,593 first-class runs, 68th on the all-time list, 3,347 in the Benson & Hedges Cup, second only behind Graham Gooch and 9,002 in the Sunday League, out on his own at the top. He also likes gleefully to point out that he has a one-day international average of 84, although it came from only one innings and the 2003 Wisden reminds us that he was the last right-handed batsman to score a half-century on his England debut.

His finest moments were probably leading Derbyshire to the 1993 NatWest Trophy against the one-day kings, Lancashire, and the 136 from 110 balls he made on the rebel tour with a young Allan Donald steaming in at a full Wanderers lusting for English blood. Of course, he might add Stone, May 2003, to that list.

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