Luke Woodcock fan club set to salute century

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014
Luke Woodcock
Fairfax NZ
HOWZAT: The vigour of Luke Woodcock's celebrations are almost as legendary as his hard work, whether it’s making his highest first-class score of 220 not out, left, or taking a wicket back in the early days.

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"There will be tears," predicts Mark Gillespie.

Not his own, although the fast bowler will be as emotional as anyone when Luke Woodcock becomes just the fifth Wellington player to appear in 100 first-class matches, at Cobham Oval tomorrow.

"There will be tears in Whangarei. He'll get quite worked up about it because he's just that kind of bloke. It means so much to him," Gillespie said of Woodcock and his milestone.

It's hard to find people who are universally admired or whose success others take more pleasure from than their own. But Woodcock's one of those.

When Gillespie says "everyone loves Woody" he's not kidding. Woodcock's work ethic and determination are the stuff of legend in the Wellington dressing room, where no-one begrudges him this rare moment in the spotlight.

"I've played with or against Woody since we were teenagers and he's just always been that guy who trains the house down and has made the most of his abilities really," Wellington captain James Franklin said.

"As a peer, and I guess being the captain this year, you always know what you're going to get out of him.

"You know he's going to leave all his efforts out on the field so, as far as being a team-mate goes, he's been awesome."

Franklin described Woodcock as the "backbone" of the team. Opening batsman Michael Papps used the words "the glue".

The left-handed batsman and left-arm orthodox bowler's first-class figures aren't startlingly good, averaging 35 with the bat and 41 with the ball since his debut back in the 2001/02 season.

What those statistics don't do is tell the story of how hard Woodcock's worked to get this far.

"He went to the cricket academy in 2001, basically as a No 10 batter who bowled some spin, and came out an opening batter. That was solely because of the work he put in," said Gillespie.

"Everyone knows that the hardest working person to ever go to that academy was Luke Woodcock. That's written on the wall pretty much."

Cricket's never come easy to Woodcock. He's always had to play at maximum intensity "and that's why his celebrations are so elaborate", said fellow spinner Jeetan Patel.

Gillespie's seen plenty of those, but rates the time Woodcock registered his maiden first-class hundred, on Eden Park's Outer Oval, as his favourite.

"He fair dinkum did a lap [of the ground]. He just set off with his bat [raised] and, I shit you not, he almost did a lap. And it's the same when he starts giving it this one [Gillespie clenches his fists, extends his arms and rotates them in quick little circles] when he gets a wicket.

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"He's got all these little mannerisms that he does. He's an absolute beaut."

Turns out Gillespie's quite a student of Woodcock's behaviour.

"When he first started he had all these silly routines, like everything was in threes. Every strap on his pad he would Velcro it three times, same with the gloves.

"When a wicket would fall, and he was going out there, you'd know it was him because you'd hear [tries to make noise like Velcro being opened three times]. Once he walked over the rope he would touch the ground three times, then turn three times and look up [at the sky] and then play three shots.

"He's slowly eliminated parts of that during his career, but next time you see him go out to bat, watch him. He's still playing three shots, doing the gloves three times."

There's no doubt Woodcock's evolved as a player. From a promising spinner, he made his name opening Wellington's batting and now bats middle order and bowls a bit.

His best performances, especially with the ball, have tended to come in short-form cricket, with selection in New Zealand's 2011 World Cup team an obvious highlight.

But as he's grown as a cricketer, so he has as a man, which delights his team-mates almost as much as his playing exploits.

"I played against him for 10 or 12 years, when I was with Canterbury, and hardly ever said a word to him," Papps said. "Then I've come up here [three seasons ago] and he's certainly one of my best mates in the team. He's one of those guys you need to get to know before you see his true character."

Getting to know Woodcock has even taken time for Patel, whose association with the allrounder, like Franklin and Gillespie, goes back to their teens. Topics other than cricket once held no interest for Woodcock, but those narrow horizons have been broadened.

"He's learnt how to properly socialise with the boys now and has certainly become that other person that we've always been looking for from Woody and that's testament to [partner] Odele and [son] Jackson and the family that he's got now," Patel said.

Cricket teams are a bit like families and Gillespie is grateful for the part Woodcock's played in making Wellington's an increasingly happy one.

"It's a privilege to call the guy a good mate and your team-mate and to have played so much cricket with him. He's a legend," Gillespie said.

Franklin would sometimes like Woodcock to relax more and be less hard on himself, but accepts some things will never change.

"All he wants, and I know this is the same for other guys in the side that have played for Wellington forever, is to win games for Wellington and hopefully this is the year we can win some silverware," Franklin said.

"I think he would happily give up all his own accomplishments to win something for Wellington. He's the ultimate team man."

Patel, who has played 97 games for Wellington himself, won't be in Whangarei to toast Woodcock's century. His wife is due to give birth and he's been replaced in the Firebirds' 12 by medium pacer Ili Tugaga.

AT A GLANCE

What: Most first-class matches for Wellington Evan Gray 120, Robert Vance 119, Chris Nevin 106, Ervin McSweeney 102, Luke Woodcock 99* *will begin his 100th match tomorrow Luke Woodcock's first-class figures for Wellington: Batting 4981 runs at 35.07. Highest score 220 not out. Bowling: 116 wickets at 41.93. Best bowling: 4-3

- © Fairfax NZ News

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