Some cricketers are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them. And some just aren’t great at all.
In the 1990s England had many many cricketers and roughly none of them were great. At a push you could say Graham Gooch was, as he was a leading batsman in the world at the start of the decade; at his peak Darren Gough might have got into most international XIs; Alec Stewart’s average might have been world-class had he not been handed the wicket-keeping gloves so often. But great? Not exactly.
Sadly – or happily if you are the kind of cricket website that revels in mediocrity – the rest of the mob were limited at best. Hence the faint praise handed around: good honest toilers. Old fashioned English seamers. Smokes fewer fags than Phil Tufnell. At least two of these three descriptions were ready made for our next unlikely lad.
Bearing a name that sounds like he should be a bit-part farmer within an episode of Wycliffe, Peter Martin was nobody’s hero. Strong of frame and shaggy of hair, he was a rolling, broad-shouldered northerner, similar in many respects to Matthew Hoggard. Seriously, try and picture Martin in your mind: we bet you ten pence that the image that forms is the Hoggster.
Martin played for Lancashire, a county that in the 1990’s was full of internationals (based as much on the fact that loads of Englishmen were international players as that Lancashire were any good – and having an Accringtonian as coach for a few years must also have helped). He toiled honestly. He was an honest toiler. He was from the same steady conveyor belt as that which had delivered Steve Watkin, Neil Mallender and Tim Munton to the England team and it was the same lightning-quick helicopter of humilation that whisked him away again. Oh for the days when the Headingley pitch, rather than the pavilion, was green. Good old fashioned English seamers, bless ’em all. Apart from Tim Munton, he was proper shit.
Halfway through this piece and before doing our research on Martin, we had a stab at predicting his England career. We think there were some impressive ODI performances in the early summer, when Martin – or whoever – made the most of the climatic conditions. We think he took four wickets on his Test debut. We think he was dropped soon thereafter and he may have been recalled once or twice. We suspect he now earns a wage as a contractor, specialising in the repair of weather-damaged agricultural buildings. He might even own a tractor. But whatever he does, he toils honestly.
We were nearly right. His eight Tests were staccatoed across four series between 1995 and 1997, peaking with 4/60 in Durban against South Africa (an attack of Dominic Cork, Mark Ilott, Martin and Richard Illingworth bowling the South Africans out for 225 is quite incredible really). It was his debut ODI in which he took four wickets, with diminished returns over his next 19 appearances. But we are convinced he has been a roofer since his retirement in 2004.
In some ways, we miss the 1990s. For a start we could walk upstairs without having to pause for a gin halfway up. For seconds, there wasn’t a Band Aid single issued at all in the decade. And for thirds, anyone could get a call-up for England if they toiled honestly enough. There are modern exceptions (we’re looking at Boyd Rankin and Amjad Khan when we say this – even though their selections were proper bonkers), but generally steady seasons in the Championship aren’t rewarded like they once were. Instead England look for characteristics like pace, or reverse swing, or height.
They might not have been great bowlers, but there was a certain romance about traditional English seamers trudging back to their mark before bowling line and length with a bit of away movement, only to be slapped through the covers for four runs. It made the rare days of England doing well so much, well, greater.