Veteran batsmen are among a dying breed of experienced ex-international leaders on the county circuit; but can Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott follow suit?
To witness Somerset’s Marcus Trescothick pull apart a Test-quality Pakistani attack on the way to his 61st first-class hundred this week brought a certain warmth to the heart.
For men like Trescothick, who will turn 41 years old this Christmas, don’t litter the outfields of county cricket like they once did. In fact for sheer age, longevity and leadership qualities perhaps only Durham’s own elder statesman Paul Collingwood, five months Trescothick’s junior, can rival the inspiration offered by the man known as Tresco.
There’s something much underappreciated about the old county pro. If English cricket is to continue its upward curve on the international scene then the influence of such men must not be simply brushed aside. Without their vacuum of knowledge the county game could suffer immeasurably.
With restrictions on the number of Kolpak players allowed and tidy financial incentives being offered to Counties who blood English-qualified youngsters into their systems, the number of former international stalwarts in county cricket is slowly dwindling.
In decades gone by many former England cricketers would have jumped at the chance to finish their careers with their respective home counties, but the landscape is vastly changing. The cricket world is now filled with endless T20 league opportunities, well-paid media openings and attractive coaching roles that tussle for both time and attraction.
Indeed, England’s three previous Test captains Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss each showed little-to-no interest in carrying on their county careers once the international limelight had fizzled away.
There are exceptions of course. Mark Butcher played on for Surrey five years after his international career had ground to a halt in 2004 and Mark Ramprakash continued to dominate the county scene for a decade after his England days were numbered in 2002.
While injuries have prevented the likes of Graeme Swann and Matt Prior from continuing in the county game, the blow seems to have been somewhat softened by Swann’s media work with TMS and Prior’s indulge into the world of cycling. Kevin Pietersen, despite a brief return to county cricket with Surrey last summer, was never likely to spend his final playing days out in the pastures of Arundel Castle or Scarborough.
Of course different players are motivated by different things. Be it the monetary aspects, lifestyle choices or simply the need to give something back to the game that has given them so much. Each player has his own reasons for playing on or taking an early retirement.
With 170 Test caps between them Warwickshire’s Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott represent a new generation of county statesmen. With other batsmen now seemingly ahead of him, Bell’s chances of an England recall appear to be evaporating with each squad announcement. But with the Bears captaincy now in tow and a demanding respect in the county game, Bell could well prolong his career for a good few years yet. On the other hand Trott, much like Trescothick, is just happy to be playing the game he loves away from the international spotlight.
Recently axed by England, Middlesex’s Nick Compton is currently taking time away from the game to reassess his career ambitions. Given that his international career seems to have ended after its second reincarnation, Compton must now decide if he’s keen on the life of a county pro or if opportunities elsewhere jump out as more appealing.
Another man recently faced with the similar decision was Michael Carberry. Jettisoned from the England Test side after the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14, Carberry has since gone on reinvent himself as a number four with Hampshire, having predominantly opened the batting throughout his career.
It can’t be underestimated the fine work both Trescothick and Collingwood have done in recent years. With the bat both men can still provide measurable contributions. Prior to recently breaking his thumb against Yorkshire, Collingwood has added 402 County Championship runs at 57.42. Trescothick has also continued to roll back the years in the West Country with 557 runs at 42.80.
While their inputs with the bat allow for them to continue playing at county level, it’s their abilities to transfer knowledge that continues to be most invaluable asset.
Trescothick, captain of the Somerset first-class side until this summer, has overseen the recent development of the likes of Jos Buttler, Tom Abell and the Overton twins Craig and Jamie.
Since taking over as captain four years ago, Collingwood has performed miracles in the North East. Durham, a county beset by financial cripple in recent times, are now down to the bare bones of a playing squad that keeps punching above its weight when logic predicts otherwise.
The tenure of Colly has instead coincided with the emergence of recent England players Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood. While promising England U19 batsman Jack Burnham could hardly ask for a better mentor than Collingwood.
Others warrant a mention too. Nottinghamshire’s Chris Read and Gareth Batty of Surrey deserve huge credit for giving back to the county game. Read, even at 37, remains one of the country’s outstanding glovesmen, while Batty’s leadership of the dressing room after the death of Tom Maynard has been second to none. The 38-year-old now combines his time captaining Surrey with the mentorship of potential England Test player Zafar Ansari.
When players such as Collingwood and Trescothick eventually decide to call it a day, how easily will they be replaced?
That’s a question for later. For now we must sit back and appreciate the county pros of today before they are gone.