Sunday, 23 August 2015

Bidding farewell

Sunday, 23 August 2015
Whilst the Ashes series has drawn to a close, Australia trampling on and spoiling England's parade, a theme of farewells has prevailed most of all this week. Several significant players play their final matches on the international stage, having all left their marks on this stage in their different ways.

The first one I have to mention though, isn't involved in the Ashes at all. In Sri Lanka, Kumar Sangakkara plays his final match for his country. Sangakkara is one of those players who appears to be universally adored - you will rarely, probably never, find anyone to say a bad word against him, a unifying figure across the game. Certainly, he's one of my favourite players to watch. There's just that beauty of watching him pile on the runs, even when if it was my team he piled them on against. The sheer numbers that alone point to a great of the game: a batting average of 57.71, going up beyond sixty without the wicketkeeper's gloves; 38 test centuries and a further 25 for the one day team. There was the key partnership with Mahela Jayawardene, a friendship that served Sri Lanka so well for so many years. And off the field too, his impact was to be felt: his passionate Spirit of Cricket lecture in 2011 simply exceptional. A true great of the game.

Attracting the most attention here in England is the retirement of Michael Clarke, Australia's captain and an adversary of England for ten years. Looking over Clarke's career, it appears an odd one - a career that touched the highs of the greats, but never quite did enough to cement his place among them. There was the golden 2012, averaging over 100 with scores of 329*, 210, 259*, and 230*, and captaining Australia to an Ashes whitewash in 2013/14 (as well as his part in another, in 2006/7). But there too were the barren periods, characterising these past few months; Ashes defeats; and lingering murmurs of unpopularity within the team. But nobody could fail to appreciate his part over the past year, doing what no captain or anyone should ever have to do, leading his country in mourning after the tragic death of his close friend and team mate Phillip Hughes. England gave him a guard of honour as he went to bat on the first day, a touching and deserved moment for an opposition captain, a veteran of 114 tests at an average near 50.

Chris Rogers, too, retires from test cricket after this match, a decision made before the series begun. Though just playing 24 tests, with 15 of them coming against England as well as his many, many years in county cricket, he's been a familiar opponent over these past two years. Though he waited until 35 before a sustained run in the side, he made up for that in his consistency and reliability - as in evidence when he broke the record for consecutive test fifties earlier in this series. His knowledge of English conditions has shown - where Australian batsmen have frequently struggled, he's often been the man to lead the way and battle on - the reason why it was such a shock when he was dismissed without scoring at Trent Bridge (his first duck in test cricket, too). My prevailing memory of Rogers though won't be from an international match; instead it came last year, a county match between Middlesex and Yorkshire. Set 472 to win, the result was supposed to be a certainty for Yorkshire. But Rogers, the captain, was immovable in scoring 241* and taking the match with it.

The final player I'll pick out is Chris Tremlett, another announcing his retirement - from all cricket - this week. Tremlett played only twelve test matches across six years, but his impact cannot be forgotten. In that glorious winter, in 2010/11, he was on top of the world. A bowler so tall, with pace and bounce, he became a valuable asset as England won the Ashes in Australia, and taking 4/26 as England bowled Australia out for 98 on the first day of the Boxing Day test. He was the one who took the final wicket of the fifth test in Sydney, well and truly securing England's first away Ashes win since 1986/7. He started the following summer strongly too, with his best figures of 6/48 taken at his home ground in Southampton. But then the injuries caught up with him again, and though a couple more sporadic appearances came, it was never quite the same. 53 wickets at 27 from 12 matches shows an international career barely started, but one that certainly had a great impact.

Four players, all following different paths through the international game, all having left their marks on the game in their own ways. As they bid their farewells, their time on the field coming to a close, maybe the only thing left to say is this. Thank you. For all that you've done, thank you.

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