Mark Richardson: ‘determination is the biggest thing’ (part 2)

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Read part 1 here

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“I enjoyed the environment, I really did. In the late ‘90s, there’d been a real change in the culture of the Blackcaps. They no longer thought they were shit-hot, and were useless, they actually started realising they had a lot of work to do.

“They’d really brought guys like Cairns and Parore and these guys into line, Nash was playing well, Fleming had taken over as captain and was starting to grow up. Guys who were in-and-out, coming back into our side – guys like Matt Horne and Paul Wiseman – were always talking about the culture that existed in that Blackcaps side at that time.”

That was what Richardson stepped into when he embarked on the 2000 New Zealand A tour of England. With national coach David Trist heading the side, and with a whole squad of aspiring youngsters, it was always going to be a positive environment.

A recent Test selection, Daryl Tuffey, spearheaded with the ball – ably supported by Chris Martin, Tama Canning and Lance Hamilton. They were backed up by three future international spinners in Glenn Suzberger, Bruce Martin and Brooke Walker – none of whom would be let-down by the incumbent back-up Blackcaps gloveman, Marty Croy.

Throw Jarrod Englefield, Michael Papps, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Aaron Redmond and company into the batting order, and the class of that side is immediately evident. Which presents two things: firstly, that Richardson was going to walk into a top-rate cricketing environment, and secondly, that he was going to struggle – severely – to stand out.

But stand out he did – no man averaged higher than Scott Styris’ 30.87, apart from Richardson, who went at over 70.

No one managed a century – except ‘Rigor’, who managed a double-ton.

And no one scored more than a solitary 50, other than Richardson. He managed five.

“I was at the point where I was scoring a lot of runs, but I’d, over the course of the last two seasons leading up to that A-tour, started to sort my game out, and started to sort my routines and the mental side of my game out. Because I knew that was lacking. I wanted to take my average from 30 – scoring one hundred in each competition and averaging 30 – to averaging 60 over a period of time, which is what you’ve got to do to force your way in. I changed my mental side of my game, so when I went to England I was ready to perform.

“And that was an environment that was conducive to performing, under Trist, and the culture that had been established, we were carrying through, and that was the way we were touring with the A side – to do the same things that the Blackcaps were doing at the time. I had my game in order, and that was my last chance – I was ready to perform. I wouldn’t say I learned anything [from that A tour], it was more a case of actually applying what I needed to apply in the opportunity I was given – and I took it.”

It led to a Test-squad call-up: touring Zimbabwe. With Matt Horne and Craig Spearman the incumbent openers, Richardson knew he still had a lot of work to do to crack open a Test berth.

“If you’re going to tour, and have to force your way into a role … I had to outscore them. I had to score more runs, and plenty more runs than them, in the warm-up games. That was the challenge, and it just coincided with a time where I was just enjoying batting a long period of time, and really relishing those opportunities – and Zimbabwe on flat wickets was a bloody good place to do it.”

In New Zealand, a triple century is still a huge deal. We don’t have figures like Bradman, scoring 334 in a day at Leeds, or Graham Hick running up 405 at Taunton, or even a Lara (take your pick for the individual innings) or Hayden.

That’s why Brendon McCullum’s triple-hundred meant so much at the Basin Reserve in early 2014. For every cricket fan in the nation, it was a huge deal. Because aside from Roger Blunt, Bert Sutcliffe, Glenn Turner, Peter Fulton, and Ken Rutherford on a hazy day in England, no New Zealander had managed it – and certainly not in a Test.

Although, I do omit one man. Against Paul Strang and Henry Olonga, in the second tour game, trying to earn a Test berth, Richardson scored 312. It was 12 hours of graft in the making.

“It was one of those things you had to do, you know? I, all of a sudden, went through a period where I was really enjoying batting long periods of time, and had a very, very good pre-ball routine going on at the time. And that meant I could just bat for hours, and hours, and hours, and it never really felt like hours – it wasn’t mentally tiring out in the middle, at all, because of that.”

It got him a Test slot, aged 29 – at an age where most players in New Zealand domestic cricket of the time were considering retiring (and often already had). It’s the most hackneyed of journalistic phrases, a point Guy Williams likes to make – ‘how does it feel?’ – but in Richardson’s case, it didn’t really feel like Test cricket at all.

“It just, honestly, at Bulawayo, felt like a club game with good players. It felt like a club ground, with no atmosphere, but just good players playing. Zimbabwe had a good side at the time, they were okay, they were a good batting outfit – bowling they were a reasonable First Class bowling attack, nothing more than that. So I was really annoyed with myself on my debut, because I cocked it up. Which probably led to a lot more resolve going into the next Test at Harare.”

There are thousands of stories of coaches telling young batsmen that they don’t mind failures, but don’t get out for a start, because then you’ve thrown it away. Most are, probably, apocryphal. Nonetheless, they provide great backing tracks for batsmen who have gone on to produce runs en masse.

In Richardson’s case, it was more that self-realisation that he’d “cocked it up” – which is a harsh assessment, but also, probably, accurate. He made up for it 99 in the second Test, rather than the six and 13 he’d clocked up in Bulawayo.

“I was just pleased to have got a score – it was one short of a hundred, but at that point I had to score runs in that innings, it was important. I thought, ‘well, I’ve got a score, I’ve consolidated my position in the team, and do I really want my first Test hundred against Zimbabwe? Probably not’.

“So I was happy. I’d got out for 99, but I wasn’t really disappointed! And I knew that my real test was coming up, against South Africa.”

South Africa. Where many an inexperienced batsman has had his blood let, whilst the likes of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock lap at the forming pool. Now replaced by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, with Kagiso Rabada and Corbin Bosch waiting in the wings, it’s a heritage of batting peril that shows no signs of holding back soon.

Even the back-up quicks – Monde Zondeki, the injury-ridden Brett Schultz, Nantie Hayward – have been frightening.

Going from Zimbabwe one day, to Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis the next was always going to be a huge step up, but Richardson coped well. He scored fifties in each of the first two games, and 46 in the third. Given the way New Zealand batsmen – before and since – have embarrassed themselves on the South African stage, it was several degrees above ‘passable’.

“I’d prepared well, because while the one-day guys had gone away for Kenya and then the South Africa one-dayers, myself and Mat Sinclair had gone back to New Zealand to train. We spent a lot of time in the indoor nets at Lincoln, which were fast, bouncy and dark. Because guys were falling like flies on the tour, a lot of quicks were going over, and we were like the targets for them as net trials to get on the team. Guys like Andrew Penn, Chris Martin and Kerry Walmsley.

“So myself and Mat Sinclair were getting pinned to the back wall in the indoor nets with new balls with those guys charging in and letting us have it, to showcase their pace and the like. So the both of us were pretty well prepared for that tour, and when we actually had to take on Donald, Pollock and Ntini on grass, it didn’t seem as frightening. So we were actually really lucky.”

Then the side returned home, and in his first home Test, Richardson made 75 against Zimbabwe. This was followed by two more century-less Tests against the touring Pakistanis, and the lack of a Test hundred was starting to grate.

“I was getting a little bit frustrated actually, because I’d been getting a lot of starts – 70s, 80s and the likes, that 99, and I hadn’t gone across the line to a hundred. I actually didn’t think it was going to come in the match that I got it, because it was a bit of a green fiery one, and we’d rolled Pakistan for very little.

“But the way they bowled was very different to the way we bowled – they were more swing bowlers, who nipped the ball off the pitch, rather than sort of bowled into the pitch and moved it sideways. So they just came onto the bat quite nicely when we batted. There was a lot of relief actually, because it was starting to get frustrating that I hadn’t gone past three figures, so it was more relief than anything else, that first century.”

It came against bowlers including Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed; and the 181-run opening partnership Richardson put on with Matthew Bell helped set the foundations for an innings victory.

“I’ll never forget the shot I played to bring it up, because it was a big, expansive, bombing up cover drive – square cover drive – which was so not me, but it came right out of the middle.”

It’s worth noting that his maiden ton came at Seddon Park, the home place of Northern Districts. For anyone who’s been exposed to Richardson’s commentary, particularly on domestic cricket, the sentiment he feels towards that province is quite evident.

“I’ve always liked that ground, absolutely loved that ground. I think it’s the nicest Test match venue in New Zealand, actually. It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship with Northern Districts. I admired them for the way they used to play their cricket, but I hated playing against them. They were hard work – as individual players, a lot of respect, but as a team, man, they used to know how to wind you up and get underneath your skin. But loved the ground.”

That series not only produced Richardson’s first Test hundred, but also his first – and only – Test wicket. The celebration has been immortalised, courtesy of YouTube, and later led to his quote at retirement that he had “a Test bowling average that is better than Sir Richard Hadlee’s, and a 50-50 record in the end-of-series running race,” so could walk away from the game happy. It was even a top-rate scalp in Yousuf Youhana, even if he had already scored 202.

“It was the only wicket of the day too. We used to score the sessions out of ten, and the whole idea was that if you won more sessions than the opposition, you went on and won the game. And I think at that point we’d got ten-nil against us in the first session, ten-nil against us in the second session, and it was late in the third session – we’d never done a thirty to them, nil to us in a day, so at least I made it nine-one!”

So drew to a close his first season as a New Zealand representative cricketer; which in itself opened up opportunities. Going to England to play League Cricket, as well as Minor Counties for Buckinghamshire, he got a match for the MCC against the touring Australians, playing at Lord’s. In the first innings, while Damien Fleming, Jason Gillespie, Colin Miller and Shane Warne ran through his teammates, Richardson held firm with 64.

“I’d been playing a really disappointing level of cricket, and was struggling – for some reason my game just wasn’t set up to whack slow-mediums around, and I was playing in a crap league in England. So I enjoyed the games for Bucks, which was just a little bit better – probably not First Class standard, but approaching it. Minor Association sort of standard. I quite enjoyed those games.

“Then to get a decent run against a decent side on a good ground, I was pretty keen to use that opportunity. That was good, and we were about to tour Australia – I don’t know whether it was good or bad, but it gave them a bit of a look at me which was a bugger. But it was a good time as well, and gave me a bit of confidence going into that tour of Australia in 2001.”

The lead up to Australia had been messy. The original plan was a tour of Pakistan, which was meant to lead straight into the Australians – they weren’t even going to head home between times. But, in transit in Singapore, news of the 9/11 attacks came through and things changed – the New Zealanders headed home, and there was a chance of full preparation for the Australian tour.

At the same time, there was a change in coach; Pakistan was to be Denis Aberhart’s first assignment in charge, but that rolled on to Australia instead.

All in all, it had been an eventful time. For the New Zealanders, it was so nearly even more eventful – had Ian Robinson given Stephen Waugh out when he edged a huge deflection behind off Daniel Vettori, it could have resulted in a victorious serious for the Blackcaps.

Instead, it was a drawn series – still a very good result for the Kiwis – but one which never quite saw Richardson hit full form. Plenty of starts and half-starts weren’t converted, and he only passed 50 once.

“I think it was just mental, probably got a little overawed. I went okay, I think I averaged about 30 in that series, had a lot of starts and one score over 50 – when I was batting really well and threw it away, and was really, really disappointed. That was always the proving ground, it was a good bowling attack, it was one of the best bowling attacks I played against. Of all the sides around at that time, they were the ones who could wear you down mentally. And I just think I never really quite got psychologically where I needed to get when I played against Australia – which is the only regret I have in my career, because I think I really did sell myself short. I could’ve scored runs against them, but I was probably weak mentally, and they were able to exploit that.”

Richardson was always one to find a moment to enter the spotlight, however, and on that tour of Australia it came via a catch on the boundary. With Shane Warne on 99 not-out, and hitting the ball around with impunity, it was integral to the New Zealand cause that Warne didn’t get further: every run he got marginalised the New Zealand advantage.

“It sort of sensed he was going to do it, because he’d been playing a lot of shots out there, and Flem had resisted putting anyone out in that position, at cow-corner, for a long time. And then I think he realised he needed to, and then we kept him on strike – he tried to push five singles – and I thought ‘he’s going to have a go here’.”

And have a go he did; Vettori’s delivery, pitched outside off and forwarded on with his customary deceptive flight, saw Warne attempt a big slog-sweep. Richardson ran in, took the ball while tumbling forward, scrambled up, turned around, and doffed his cap to the jeering Australian crowd.

“I just had that sense that he was going to go to his banker, which was that shot, and he did. He only did it half-hearted, that’s why it only really carried about 40-odd yards out there. I can remember getting underneath that one and thinking ‘oh god, why does it have to be me,’ because there was so much riding on that catch for some reason … and then to later find out it was a no-ball makes it even better.”

Remember the days of the Australian tri-series? They seem an age ago now, with teams jetting in for three-match bilaterals on a painfully regular basis. This 2015-16 summer sees Australia host New Zealand early in the summer, followed by the West Indians, with India not far behind. Then comes a return tour to New Zealand, and a jet-set to South Africa.

Back in 2001-02, things were simpler. New Zealand arrived in Australia first, playing three Tests. South Africa joined in the fun with a Test series of their own. At the same time, all three took part in an ODI tri-series, and then Australia followed the South Africans back to the Republic for a tour there.

Two teams, three tours; combined to the coming summer’s four-and-five, it’s a much more passive schedule.

But while that one-day series held at the end of the Tests may be lost to the mists of time – as virtually every one-day series will be – it’s significant for Richardson. He played four ODIs, the only four he ever played, and failed to make more than 26 – at a strike rate of 43.

“I just had no right to be there. I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have that side of my game ready to go – everyone kept saying ‘just play your Test game, just play your Test game,’ well that was a load of bollocks. Because you needed a bit more than that, I needed a bit more than that. I didn’t know where my boundary shot was going to come from, when I was getting bogged down I didn’t know how to release the pressure … it didn’t work, and when I look back it’s like ‘well, I didn’t blow an opportunity because I didn’t deserve an opportunity’.”

From this point on, Richardson started to settle into his role: he was a Test match opener, battling runs out, and providing the role that the New Zealand side desperately needed. It was a role he could perform, and performed to perfection.

“I was a little bit older, and I knew very early on that I had once chance. And if I didn’t take it, I wouldn’t get reselected – it just doesn’t work like that when you’re a bit older, I was 29 when I got my shot … I think because of that mentality, and because of being a little older, was why I was able to achieve consistency. The other thing was that I tended to play with a mentality of fearing failure – which was probably why I exhausted so fast, but was probably also a reason why I was so consistent. It was grit your teeth and get in there, and play with discipline.

“I always hated of being accused of giving my wicket away, it used to really, really grate me. So that fear of actually playing that bad shot, meant that playing that bad shot was unacceptable. I think that helped me become consistent in a position where they hadn’t had much consistency, and because of that, very quickly I became the first choice bloke to go in.”

It started with a personal success, against the touring Bangladeshis, with 143. At this point, Bangladesh had only been a Test nation for two years; to put it into perspective, New Zealand were a full 70 years older in the Test arena.

“They’d been playing for a wee while – they actually had us in a little bit of trouble to tell you the truth. We were about four-down for not many [4-51], and then myself and Mac managed to get a few. They were okay, but what you find with the minnows is they have their moments in games, but if you can get on top of them, they tend to have bad moments – bad enough moments to lose the game for them. They put us under pressure, but we managed to bat our way out of it, and then as we could put a little more pressure back on them, it tended to open the floodgates a little bit. They’re still yet to be a real force in world cricket – they can beat sides, but they’re still very much the eighth or ninth team.”

Then came England; a series remembered only for Nathan Astle’s 222 at Lancaster Park (and not for the world’s worst umpiring decision). Forgotten at the top of the order in Astle’s 222 match was Richardson’s dogged 76, but such runs merely covered up what was a massive gulf between the sides in that Test.

“We got a hiding, we got smashed. Nathan’s innings just sort of papered over the cracks, what was a bloody crevasse really, that we’d been absolutely spanked. You play the innings of your life, and we still lost by 100. It wasn’t a particularly great game from a New Zealand perspective, but it was a sensational game – and it was, it was awesome to watch, because you just knew something special was going on just the way the ball was coming off the bat.

“I remember when Caddick came back with the new ball, because it was a pretty grassy, bouncy wicket, and he was a good bowler with the new ball – and he just got belted further out of the ground, and you just thought ‘geez, something bloody special going on here’. To the point where Cairns and Astle got together right at the end of the game, and they got it down to 100 and we started to thinking maybe they could pull this off, such was the flow of the tide against England at that point. But it wasn’t really to be, but it was awesome to part of that occasion, even though everyone but Astle had had a bad game.”

In the third Test of that series, Richardson was afforded the chance of opening with Adam Parore in what was the latter’s final Test match.

“That was a nice moment. And we’d effectively grown up together, myself and Adam. We met in a New Zealand Under-14s team, and then we knew each other after that when we were third formers and St Kents, and went right through school cricket together – I left school cricket with Adam in seventh form to play for Cornwall, which was his club. We used to holiday together, and we were mates back in school days. Both of us batted for a long time, when we started at St Kents, we batted at nine and ten – so to go out and open the batting for the Blackcaps together was pretty cool.”

2001’s cancelled tour of Pakistan was rescheduled, and duly occurred in 2002 – but exactly what was feared would happen twelve months earlier, did happen the following year. A bomb went off, players were blown off whatever they were sat on – be it a bed, or seat, or anywhere else. The team didn’t stay long, quickly returning home.

“It was quite surreal. It was horrible. Once again, we’d been smashed in the first Test, and we were up against it. Shoaib Akhtar was bowling really quickly … and then he’d gone through us with just extreme pace in the first Test, and sort of, in a way, we were relieved when we got to go home and didn’t have to face up again in Karachi. But it was scary, standing in the carpark after it had gone off was a very, very eerie feeling, and a feeling of absolutely no control over the next few hours or next few minutes. We’d been told by the security advisors that most of those sort of things happened in twos, and so we were a little bit worried, it wasn’t a great feeling. It was good to get on a plane and get out of Pakistan.”

In Richardson’s case, he was on the toilet at the time of the explosion.

“I was having a nervous one that morning, and yeah, found myself in the fetal position around the bottom of the toilet. It was just a natural instinct, I guess – all of a sudden when the building stopped shaking, and my ranch-slider glass stopped smashing, it was like ‘ooh, I’m on the floor here, wrapped around the bowl’.”

This was followed by a tour to the West Indies, and a home series against India – all of which continued to assure Richardson of his place in the side. Those days were, however, punctured by the 2002 Players’ Strikes, led by the newly-formed New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association. For those who haven’t delved into those murky days, it may seem simply like a players’ strike that was sorted without serious ramifications – this overlooks the (alleged) bullying of younger players, to make sure they didn’t abandon the strike, and fails to see just how close New Zealand came to putting out a national side to face India filled with domestic second XI players.

“I was a little bit disappointed with the way that played out, actually. I think it got railroaded by a couple of senior players, I’m not going to name any names, but I think egos from the players’ perspective got in the way a little bit, and derailed it. It had to happen, I think, but it didn’t need to happen the way it did. I think there was just a bit of ego from a few senior players, I think, who stalled proceedings and made it tenser than it perhaps needed to be. Whereas the guys who were in charge of doing the negotiations probably don’t get the credit they deserve, the ones who worked in the engine room and did a lot of the negotiation work. From that point on, I think conditions for New Zealand cricketers have been very much for the betterment of the players. From the players’ perspective, that moment was pretty significant.”

From there came 2003, and the tour of Sri Lanka. We all remember Stephen Fleming’s 274 from that series – still one of the best knocks played by a New Zealand batsman – but the challenge of facing bowlers like Murali and Kumar Dharmasena on their home turf was one faced by all the members of that New Zealand side.

“It was tough [facing Murali]. He was probably the hardest bowler that I played, that I’ve had success against. I played Shoaib Akhtar a number of times and had some success, and when he bowled the speed of light there wasn’t much you could do, but Murali was just, man, he was the tops. You had no idea which way it was going, he was accurate, all I had as a game plan against him was to put pad to ball, not look to hit it, hope to survive, and hope to pick up runs at the other end. I look back at the innings I played there, and the partnership I put together with Flem when he made his big total, and it’s probably one of my most enjoyable innings.

“Because it was an innings where I had no option but to play to a specifically and slightly odd game plan for survival, and was able to do it in their conditions – and pretty much bat 80 overs against a bloody good bowling attack in Sri Lankan conditions. It’s one of those innings that I really value actually. And to play my part with Flem along the way, with his innings, and I learned a hell of a lot standing at the other end watching that innings. That was when he was at this best, I think through that period as a Test batsman he’d found his peak.”

From Sri Lanka, the side moved north into India. Any time a team takes on India, in India, it’s a massive challenge – even the best of bowlers, such as Shane Warne, can be blunted, whilst many a world-class batsman have found India to be a graveyard for touring bats.

Against what amounted to one of India’s best ever bowling attacks, Richardson set about compiling his Test-best 145, alongside Lou Vincent in creating a record-setting partnership.

“I got sick towards the end of the first Test, in Ahmedabad, I’d got quite ill. I’d got the Delhi Belly and was not well, so was suffering physically in the lead-up to that innings, and I was pretty keen to do well. You’ve got Australia, you’ve got England, as the ones you’ve got where you want to have success on that tour. But India, for me, was one like that – to go to India, and score runs in India, was important. It was part of a cricketer’s CV, and that was probably my last opportunity to do that. So once again it was an innings I was pleased I took, and I had to work through specific plans for Harbajhan and for Kumble, and I had to effect those plans, which I was able to do.”

He highlights both discipline and self-management as key to succeeding in India: “I could go away having taken a hundred in India, against India, so you really value those times.”

But people remember the cramps more than the knock – the writhing scream, the dubstep remix, the Crowd Goes Wild pisstakes.

“I don’t think there was much I could do really, the fact was I was drained of nutrients anyway because I’d been sick leading up to that. I tend to be a cramper anyway, in marathons and like that I do nowadays, I cramp up … I was so severely dehydrated at that point, having batted a day as well, it was just a bad, a really, really, really bad episode of it. But things like that, when I look back, have defined me as a brand in a way. Which, even though it wasn’t on purpose, it has been incredibly useful in terms of my career post-cricket, in terms of an identity.”

As with so much else from Richardson’s career, everything had to be eventful: as well as a Test high-score, and eternally hilarious cramping, he even had to contend with a bee swarm which came across the ground. Richardson, however, didn’t realise that was what it was.

“I just saw everyone get down on their knees, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, I thought it was some religious thing. So I just got down. Also, the umpire who was at my end, the late umpire Shepherd, he didn’t know what was going on either, so he just got down on his knees – but, yeah, apparently there was a bee swarm that came through!”

The following series – at home against Pakistan and South Africa – were quiet for Richardson, and it wasn’t until the tour to England that he really reached new heights. As discussed in part one, it ended up being the beginning of the end for Richardson’s playing career, but at the time it was simply a glorious performance. 93 and 101 in the Lord’s Test – the former having been sawn off so close to his ton – brought him to the attention of those in their bacon-and-egg ties.

“That was another one, going to England. 1999 in England, Dan Vettori and those guys used to talk quite fondly of, and it was a real turning point in New Zealand cricket. So when we went back there, I wanted my slice of the action – I wanted to have a successful tour, and I wanted us to have a successful tour. Unfortunately we didn’t have a successful tour, but my own tour went very well runs-wise. I just really enjoyed playing and touring in England. I loved the fact you travelled round in a bus, a coach, you were so well looked after, the grounds were fantastic, they really appreciate their cricket. It’s just an enjoyable cricket tour, and when they’re like that you want to maximise it by having success as well. And at that time England was a damn good side as well, so there was motivation to perform against a good England side in England … and the hundred at Lord’s – I never thought I got those sorts of things, those were for other people – that was the pinnacle.”

A major factor of that knock was how well he played through the off-side – something he hadn’t particularly done previously – including one stellar cover-drive off Matthew Hoggard. The major contributing factor to this was the relatively new national coach, John Bracewell.

“I remember a few cover-drives actually, it was one thing Braces helped me with going into that tour – hitting the ball through the off-side. I’d had a poor series against South Africa at home, I’d also got my eyes tested and ended up getting a contact lens in my left eye, and played with one contact lens. So that meant I could see the ball a bit better, but also he’d really helped me with my technique so I could be a bit more effective through the off-side, and in that innings I did – I played some good cover-drives, which I never used to really play, it was an out-shot for me. So that was another enjoyable factor of that innings I suppose.”

From there, Richardson’s form and mentality fell away, and it didn’t take long for his playing days to draw to a close. He left a large legacy, especially for such a short career, and part of it was in his position as a cult figure, part of which stemmed from the beige-suited running race.

“Everyone loves to pick on the slow guy, and I was perceived as the slow guy – and I never thought I was that slow over 100 if I didn’t have to bend down and stop to pick up a ball. Where my issue was wasn’t speed, but it was more agility. I can remember saying ‘I’m not that slow, I’m not that slow,’ and Pig, Scott Styris, who was one of the natural bullyboys and liked to pick on the weak, decided he was going to set up a sprinting race between me and someone else from another side. I thought ‘ah bugger it, I’ll do it, I’ll prove to these guys I’m not that slow’.

“I took on, I think it was Pakistan, and it just happened that all the teams were out there for the sprinting race, and all the media thought what’s going on – so there was story for them, and they’re always looking for a story to write up. So, very quickly, even before it became a tradition, it became a tradition. We thought we should probably honour it. And it was a good way, at the end of the series, of just maybe healing a few of the wounds that had built up between the two sides through a little bit of fun and humour.”

Then, in England, the Beige Brigade suggested running in the beige suit, “and it took on a life of its own.”

But while having a joke was Richardson’s way of releasing the pressure off-field, he was a serious competitor on it, and he enjoyed having Stephen Fleming at the head of the team.

“A captain’s a captain, they just tell you where to stand as far as I was concerned. I just went and batted, I knew where I stood in the field – I’m sure I was a pain in the arse for most captains because I was so rubbish in the field – so in terms of captaincy, I never went ‘wow, what a great captain’ because I was very much an individual and did my thing, but I enjoyed playing cricket with Stephen Fleming. The time that I came on board, he was really maturing into his role as a leader, and he was really driven to succeed for New Zealand, and he was trying to drive others to do the same, and I enjoyed that, just watching that from a slight distance. And I always enjoyed batting with him, he was a good player to bat with, and I learned a lot about application from him, and that’s probably what I enjoyed the most.”

Richardson has a genuine perception of cricket, and it comes across most clearly when he discusses the factors that make a great cricketer – or a great sportsman. For a man who transformed himself, mid-career, from a spinner to a world-class opening bat, few can have quite such an understanding of what’s required in order to succeed.

“I think determination is probably the biggest thing. You need a basic understanding of what’s needed to succeed, technically, I think you need to understand that to focus your training. You need discipline to do the work, and the strength to realise where you’re falling short. I think a lot of people who think they’re good at a game – and I see it in the industry I’m in now – don’t want to acknowledge their weaknesses, their shortcomings, and get very defensive. As a sportsman you have to be able to recognise those, to work on them, but also to realise you can’t go out and play a certain way if you don’t have that. So you need to be intelligent about the way you apply yourself.”

That determination is reiterated.

“Determination, I’ve always thought, especially at the top level. Determination and desperation. It’s not easy, and you have a lot of self-doubt, and the only thing that gets you through the bad times is that desperation to succeed. And it doesn’t even have to be that, it can be desperation to not fail. Once you learn that it’s okay to be nervous, because it means something, and to have that desperation, then you start to accept that, and that it has to be there. A basic understanding of what it takes to succeed, backed up by a desperation to succeed, are probably the two things you need if you want to do well.”

Determination, an understanding of your own limits, and a desperation not to fail. Perhaps nothing can better sum up the man who went from being smacked from here to next week as a young spinner, into a Test batsman averaging 44.77 – he’s a testament to what can be achieved.


One thought on “Mark Richardson: ‘determination is the biggest thing’ (part 2)

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