The Mark of great cricket talent

Last updated 13:00 19/11/2012
Mark Douglas
Marion van Dijk
Mark Douglas working at a building site in Brightwater.

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There have been enough prolific innings throughout Mark Douglas' lengthy cricket career for him to recall his first international outing with some degree of whimsy.

It was in Sharjah, of all places, in April 1994 and against Australia in a Pepsi Austral-Asia 50-over match. And it was brief.

The statistics tell the tale - M W Douglas lbw b Warne 0 - a second-ball duck to signify a rather inauspicious entry on to the international stage.

Given the identity and future profile of his assailant, now legendary Australian legspinner Shane Warne, the then 25-year-old Douglas could at least attest to being in some illustrious company.

"[Warne] came up and reminded me at the end of the game as well," Douglas recalls.

"He said to me, ‘That's 1-all'. I said, ‘What do you mean that's 1-all?', and he said, ‘You played club cricket in England against me and scored a hundred, so now I've got you out for nought, so that's 1-all'."

Douglas had been playing for the Clevedon Cricket Club, which competes in the Bristol and Somerset division of the West of England league, several years previously when he happened upon the relatively unknown Warne.

He remembers the century, although not the actual score, and also remembers a handy enough bowling effort from the blond Aussie leggie.

"I knew I was facing an Australian legspinner, but I didn't put two and two together that it was him. He was very useful. I certainly had a few streaky shots in my 100."

Sharjah certainly reminded Douglas of the exacting nature of international cricket. He played six times for New Zealand, scoring just 55 runs, with his final ODI outing - also against Australia - at Eden Park just seven months after his debut. He fared only marginally better, nicking Paul Reiffel for two.

Thankfully for Douglas, his limited and rather uneventful international career certainly hasn't defined what has otherwise been a long and relatively bountiful career at club, provincial and first class level.

He's finally retired from playing aged 44, after picking up the Vonda Edwards Trophy over the past two seasons as Nelson's top club runscorer. He amassed 964 runs for his Stoke-Nayland club during the 2010-11 season at a healthy 60 average, and collected another 614 runs last season at 51.

But a constant weekend diet of painkillers, not only to get him through each game, but also to get him out of bed on a Sunday, became too much for the prolific left-hand batsman.

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"There comes a point where you think, ‘This is a bit silly, enough's enough'. You've got to look after your body for the rest of your life."

The signs had been there for some time.

"I sort of had an inkling, even [with] five or six games to go. The enthusiasm had sort of dwindled.

"It's more about wanting to be competitive and getting to the stage where you struggle between the wickets and can't throw [the ball] 20 metres. I didn't really want to get to the stage where I became a liability. Obviously you can score runs, but it's an allround game, and you've got to be able to contribute on and off the field."

Douglas had also extended his career with the expectation of playing at senior club level with his now 18-year-old son Jordy, which he achieved over the past two seasons. With Douglas junior heading to university, there wasn't the same pull for Douglas senior to continue his weekly outings.

His involvement is by no means over. He's been a Nelson representative selector for the past three seasons alongside convenor and coach Andrew Cavill and Garry MacDonald, and has agreed to continue in that role for another season. He's still constantly reminded about the game's changing nature and, in some cases, about opportunities missed.

Douglas enjoyed an extensive first class career involving 94 games for both Central Districts and Wellington, playing 76 games for CD between 1987 and 2001. He scored 4808 first class runs, 3838 of them for CD, and finished with a 35 average. He played another 114 one-dayers, 83 of them for CD, scoring 2517 runs at 24.

It was a different landscape back then, though. There were plenty of classy players around, although certainly nothing like the financial rewards of the current era.

The only T20 cricket Douglas has played has been at Nelson club level. He missed the transition into a fully professional environment, and admits he would have relished an opportunity to play in some of the lucrative money-spinning competitions available to today's crop of globetrotting cricketers.

"I sort of missed the boat all the way round. When I first started playing first class cricket, we got about $40 a day meal allowance, and then when I finished, that's when all the contracts started coming in and it was more lucrative to play first class cricket. And then obviously the [Indian] IPL came in."

As an accomplished stroke-maker, Douglas would have relished any opportunity to be part of world cricket's biggest cash cow. However, he says the game's shortest version isn't without its drawbacks, particularly with New Zealand's restricted player base.

"You look at the pool of players that New Zealand Cricket have got - you are limited. So when you pick your one-day side and T20 side, half of them are still your test players.

"Then, when you have to go back and play test cricket and you start to put an innings together, you probably loosen up a little bit, because you've been playing T20."

He says a player's shot selection can become muddled, and shots that might have worked in the abbeviated arena don't necessarily transpose comfortably to a test match situation, where tighter attacking fields can severely limit a batsman's options.

"I'd hate to be a bowler in T20. You could have a good day, but probably the majority of times you get whacked. I think the mindset of going for eight or nine an over is bowling well. That's pretty daunting, and as a batsman, if you're not scoring eight or nine an over, you're not doing your job either, and then the pressure comes on."

While Douglas may have missed the boat on that count, there's another form of cricket that's always remained close to his heart. As part of Nelson Hawke Cup teams over the years, he got to play some of his more memorable innings.

In all, he played 61 games for Nelson, scoring 2660 runs, although his selection in New Zealand age group teams curtailed much of his early involvement with the side. When he first made the Nelson team "as a 16 or 17 year-old", there were eight CD representatives in the side.

"You were around a great bunch of cricketers. If you didn't take good things off those guys, then it was never going to happen. So to play in that standard of cricket, you've got to lift your game to be part of it, and if you want to be part of it, then obviously you had to work hard.

"Being away playing age group cricket [for New Zealand], you just tried to make the most of each opportunity."

Douglas' initial Nelson involvement was from 1985 to 2001, debuting against North Canterbury, but he was recalled to the side by Cavill two seasons ago in an attempt to help shore up a struggling batting lineup.

He scored five centuries for Nelson, three of them double centuries, including a career-best unbeaten 237 against Horowhenua-Kapiti during the 1998-99 season. His biggest Hawke Cup innings was an accomplished 229-run knock in the defence against Southland at Trafalgar Park in 1993, and he also scored 200 against Wellington five seasons later. He also batted with a broken thumb to score a crucial 43 in the last innings of the successful challenge against Central Otago in 1995-96.

His impressive contributions left him with a 69-run Hawke Cup average, and he ended his representative career with an overall average of 50.

He says Hawke Cup cricket requires a whole different mindset as batsmen mentally adjust to spending extended periods at the crease.

"Obviously it's a stepping stone to first class cricket. You go from club to [playing for] Nelson, and when you're playing the challenges, you're playing three-day cricket, which is another step again, and which a lot of guys don't play.

"We play two-day [club] cricket, but it's still limited to 60, 70 or 80 overs. [Club] teams can't bat much longer than that, and when you're playing Hawke Cup cricket, you've got to try and bat another team out of the game."

He's heartened by the current crop of Nelson players emerging, with Nelson captain B J Barnett, left arm spinner Dan Wightman, pace bowler Joe O'Connor, allrounder Marty Kain and New Zealand age group allrounder Connor Neynens all on CD's radar. He also believes that batsman Greg Hay, who played the last of his 22 first class matches for CD against Wellington in 2009, still remains a genuine option.

"It'd be a freak of nature to get half a dozen players back in the CD side, I think. The player base is better, so the players have just got to get more consistent and push [into] the Nelson side that way - then they'll get chances at the higher level if they're being consistent."

- The Nelson Mail

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