Peter Fulton: ‘I loved every minute’

Scott Styris takes guard for the new over, while Shaun Tait retires from the bowling crease to be replaced by a young Mitchell Johnson.

Filling in for the rested Glenn McGrath, Johnson is slightly less quick, somewhat less hostile, and significantly less coordinated than his 2013-14 incarnation.

But today, the first ball is just about alright; full, quick and swinging away. Delivery stride, release, seam position all click into place.

Styris plays a loose drive, lashing out away from his body. The edge is taken by another fill-in, Brad Haddin.

Out for nought, after just under 20 minutes of runless toil.

Peter Fulton, two not-out at the other end, has just played out six consecutive dots from Nathan Bracken. At 41/4, after more than nine overs, New Zealand’s required rate shoots up to 7.49. It’s all over for the New Zealanders – surely?

Except it’s not all over, because while Johnson’s second ball just scrapes over the bails, the third is a customary wide. When he returns for his second over, Johnson is greeted by Fulton with a six and a four in the first two balls.

As for Johnson’s fourth over, Fulton goes ballistic; dot, six, four, four, four, one. Watson gets the same. Four, dot, six.

Eventually, he scoops a ball to short mid-wicket, where ring-in skipper Michael Hussey takes the grab.

But 51 off 40 balls, with 47 off his last 26 deliveries, gives New Zealand the impetus it needs to go on to a remarkable, historic and borderline-miraculous victory.

***

Some cricketers, after entering the First Class environment, hit the ground running; some of those then go on to struggle, with it not proving as easy as it seems. Others kick on and become greats.

But that’s not all players. Some have a horrific start, and either get enough rope to play themselves into form, or find themselves on the outer, having to begin the hard work all over again.

Peter Fulton, as a 22 year-old debutant, coming into the Canterbury side back in 2001, managed to fall somewhere in between those two avenues. He wasn’t exceptional early on, but by no means was he a failure.

It was perhaps best summed up by Fulton’s first Canterbury skipper, Gary Stead, who had some firm words of advice after Fulton’s debut, against Auckland at the very back-end of the 2000-01 season.

“I think it was good that it was against a strong team, really. It gave me a good sense of what First Class cricket was about. I remember it was a really flat wicket, but they had some really high-quality bowlers, and I got a couple of starts. That was one of the things Gary said to me after the game, he said, ‘you’ve done okay, you looked pretty good out there, but you’ve got to make sure if you get a start, you kick on and get a big score’. That was probably the biggest thing I took out of it, was you’ve got to have those high expectations of yourself as a batter and never be satisfied with what you’ve done.”

Those bowlers included Chris Drum, Tama Canning and Mark Haslam, at least two of whom sit amongst the very upper echelon of Auckland performers. It was enough to show that he should get a few more games the following season, in 2001-02.

Averaging around 30 for the First Class season, Fulton’s run wasn’t an atrocious one by any means, but nor was it a roaring success – he didn’t manage any big scores, but still accumulated a few very handy knocks.

“I remember getting 40 in a game at the Basin Reserve on a really bad wicket, and they had a good bowling attack – O’Brien, Andrew Penn, Matthew Walker, James Franklin. Getting 40-odd or 40 not-out or something, on a really bad wicket, and starting to get that self-belief. In the last two games of the season I got an 80-odd against Auckland, and 60-odd against ND, and that was when I started to think, ‘I’ve actually had a bit of success here’, and things started to roll from there.”

But Fulton was still yet to make a domestic hundred. That came the following summer – and when it did occur, Fulton made damn sure that it counted.

“That was a pretty cool couple of days, really. It was a little bit strange, I was batting at four and we were 10/2 – so I was in pretty early. I was about 50-odd not-out at lunch, and I started to think that I hadn’t got a First Class hundred at that stage. You start to put a bit of pressure on yourself, and think, ‘I need to get one sooner rather than later’. Really flat wicket for batting, a nice hot day, couldn’t ask for anything more from a batting point of view.”

At stumps, Fulton had reached 188 and was yet to be dismissed. Having batted for several hours already, he was far too exhausted to be thinking of greater things – and then the match situation the next day dictated how he would bat, meaning personal milestones were far from the forefront. The idea of a triple-hundred didn’t enter his mind.

“I think I was probably lucky that we were trying to declare, so I knew that I had to get on with things, so I never really had to worry about getting nervous or thinking ‘am I going to get it or not?’

“I was playing my shots, thinking ‘if I get out I get out, and if I get it – well, great’. And luckily that’s how it worked out.”

Fulton batted more than nine-and-a-half hours for his 300, facing nearly 450 deliveries, and running the 22-yard gauntlet countless times. “It was a bit surreal towards the end, as it got closer,” Fulton concedes, but it was something that gave a young batsman a huge confidence boost.

Very few New Zealanders had broached the triple-century mark, and one P.G. Fulton was the latest entrant to a remarkably exclusive club.

“It gave me a lot of self-belief, just because I looked at the list of people who had done it, and there were only four or five others on the list and they’d all played for New Zealand. I thought, ‘well, if I’m on that list then there’s a chance that maybe I’m good enough to play for New Zealand one day as well’. It definitely helped a lot for my self-belief, and probably helped put my name out there and put my name on the radar of a few people who probably didn’t know too much about me before then.”

Roger Blunt, Bert Sutcliffe, Glenn Turner, Ken Rutherford, Mark Richardson – followed since by only Brendon McCullum and Dean Brownlie. Added to that, Fulton was only 24. His form meant he finally earned a slot in the NZC Academy, something he’d been overlooked for to that point.

While Matt Horne’s exceptional 187 – at better than a run-a-ball – meant Auckland managed to defeat Canterbury in that match, it did mean that Fulton thrust himself into the line of sight of those from above.

***

Tait and Johnson, alongside Hogg and Bracken, might have been a challenging one-day bowling attack, but it was South Africa that proved the toughest test for Fulton.

“Oh yeah, that was, that was… Yeah. That’s probably still the most challenging bowling and conditions that I’ve played in. Four guys who, three of them will go down in the top 15 or 20 fast bowlers of all time, and Kallis who’s one of the best all-rounders ever.”

Although he ended up out of the third Test through injury, it still gave ample room to Fulton to prove how difficult conditions were. He averaged just 16.3 over those matches, and yet still performed better than Hamish Marshall (15.5), Brendon McCullum (14.8), Michael Papps (14.3), and Jamie How who managed just four runs in his two knocks.

Only four men averaged beyond the 20s, and two of those were Messrs 8 and 9.

One has to feel it wouldn’t be overly harsh to describe New Zealand’s tour to South Africa in 2005-06 as something of a horror series for the visitors: a young Dale Steyn rose to the occasion, Makhaya Ntini continued to prove his dogged abilities, and Shaun Pollock merely carried on a terrific career.

“When I look back at it now, it was tough conditions to bat on – seam bowling-friendly wickets, with those guys running in, it was pretty tough. But those are the sort of challenges that you relish; even though I didn’t score a lot of runs, I remember batting in Cape Town for the whole first session, and I ended up getting 40-odd. The record-books only show it as 40-odd, but for me being out there and knowing how tough it was, it’s something that I still look back on and think it was pretty cool to test yourself out against some of the best in the world.”

When he missed the third Test however, it began the start of a two-year exodus from the five-day team. It took until 2008, against Bangladesh, for Fulton to return to the side.

Despite that, Fulton stayed in the ODI side – he proved himself very adept within the constraints of limited-overs cricket, and had a number of huge series and tournaments in quick succession.

It all led up to the 2007 Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, which in turn led to the World Cup a matter of weeks afterward. Fulton suddenly found himself an important member of the national squad, just three years after first making it into the representative conveyor belt.

***

Fulton’s first call-up to the national system came with his 2004 elevation to the New Zealand A side which played against their South African and Sri Lankan peers.

His response as to whether he saw that as meaning he was within grasp of an international cap is typically modest. “Nah, not really,” he says. “I was obviously really pleased to be playing New Zealand A.”

But the tour of South Africa with that A side is still cricket he considers some of the toughest he’s faced in his career – “I did pretty well on that tour, and that was when I started to think I might be getting close [to NZ] … When I look back, there were probably a few signs that I was close … but at the time I didn’t pick up on any of that.”

The spin-off from that tour was a national selection, but it was a very half-strength side, sent to play ODIs against a still very raw Bangladesh side.

“It was an eye-opener. I didn’t know what to expect in Bangladesh.”

It was Fulton’s first experience of the subcontinent, and although he played just one match in the series – replacing the injured Mathew Sinclair – it proved that he was well within the scope of further representative honours.

It took another year, however, for Fulton to get another shot. Four ODIs against Sri Lanka saw the runs flow: 70*, 32, 50 and 112.

“I remember during that winter having a chat with John Bracewell, and he said ‘to be honest, we see you as more of a Test player, we don’t really see you as a one-day player. If I was you I’d concentrate on four-day cricket, and that’s probably your best chance of playing for New Zealand – and even then, you’ll probably have to wait a couple of years for a spot to open up’.

“I hadn’t given up, but I thought I’d just go back to Canterbury and score some runs. Then the first two or three games of the season I think I scored a few runs, and next thing I knew I found myself picked in the one-day team.”

Fulton says that those first few games were “so new and exciting” that he didn’t get nervous – while that came into the equation later in his career, those first few matches saw him just wanting to be on the park.

Another moment that didn’t have the emotion perhaps expected came when he brought up his first international hundred. The match situation, and a desire to lead his country to victory, meant his mind was elsewhere.

“I wasn’t really focusing on the hundred because of the run-chase, I was more concerned about whether we were slipping behind the run rate and stuff like that. I wasn’t thinking about it too much until I was on 98 or 99 I think, and I can’t remember who was at the other end, Chris Cairns I think, they said ‘just take your time and get your hundred’ and stuff. That was when I realised I was close to a hundred.”

With friends and family at the ground, it was still a special moment – especially given that he’d been told he wasn’t playing, before the game.

“It was in the days of the Super Sub, and I was told I was the Super Sub – as a batsman, you’ll only really be used as the Super Sub if you bat second. If we bat first, you’re probably not going to be used. So I figured ‘well, I’m probably not going to play then’. Then about five minutes before the toss Stephen Fleming came back and said ‘sorry mate, there’s been a change, you’re in the team’. So it’s funny how things work out.”

A few more ODIs followed against the West Indies, and with the four-year World Cup cycle not far off reaching a new climax, it’s no real surprise that Fulton had one eye on the tournament. It’s perhaps more of a surprise that his World Cup ambitions began as early as 2003.

“I remember at the Academy in 2003, we had to write some goals down, and one of the ones I wrote down was to go to the 2007 World Cup. That was something I always wanted to do. Once I started playing for New Zealand, that was definitely a big focus. We played a lot of one-day cricket in those two years leading up to it, so it was definitely something I targeted. I think most of the guys in that period had that focus, getting to that World Cup and doing well.”

When those one-dayers against the West Indians concluded, however, Test cricket came calling. Number three on debut – heavy responsibility placed on the new entrant.

Fulton never got too confident about it happening until he was named in the team, however; “I didn’t want to jinx myself or anything”.

Some might consider it as much a relief as anything, making a Test debut at 27. Fulton’s ambitions had never been quite arrogant enough for him to see Test cricket as a natural progression, so that wasn’t something he felt.

“When I was younger, because I hadn’t played in all the rep teams and New Zealand Under-19s and all of that, I guess I didn’t have quite the same, maybe, expectations that some other guys do. If they’ve come through Under-19s and progressed through, they might see it as a natural step. Because I didn’t do all that, I never really felt like it was something I had to achieve – if I only ever played for Canterbury, I still would’ve been happy with that.”

After playing in a terrific New Zealand victory in the first Test, he made a composed 75 in the second. He concedes, however, that he’d had a prime chance to make a Test century. Regardless, it was nice to have runs under his belt.

“When I look back now, I didn’t throw away a hundred, but I got out straight after tea when the ball was old and the pitch was pretty flat … Until I actually got a Test hundred, that was one of the only things I looked back on and regretted. I thought that might have been my best chance to get a Test hundred.”

***

“Those last two games were pretty cool. I was not-out at the end of the Eden Park game, and that game at Hamilton was just crazy. It was one of the first times in world cricket, really, that teams started to think 350 wasn’t unobtainable – because we’d done it before, even though we were in it a bit, we just thought we’d have a crack.

“I remember talking with Craig McMillan when we were out there, and we both just said ‘we’ve won the series, let’s just have a crack. If we get out at least it’s an early finish’. As they say the rest is history, Craig played an amazing knock, so did Brendon, and it’s something I’ll always remember.”

Fulton’s 51 was outshone by McMillan’s astounding hundred, and McCullum’s heroics finishing the innings, but all three were necessary for the team success. And a whitewash over Australia – over Australia! What a team success it was.

It got Fulton in the World Cup squad, but not the first choice XI. It took an injury to Lou Vincent for Fulton to worm his way into the team. He certainly proved himself – he averaged nearly 40, made two fifties, and was the only man of note as the team crumbled in the semi-final.

“I broke a finger in one of the warm-up games, and before that it probably would have been touch-and-go over whether I’d get in the team for the first few games. That broken finger probably made the decision easier to leave me out. But luckily for me, and unluckily for Lou, he broke his arm and I got another opportunity.

“A lot of people didn’t enjoy that World Cup, because it was spread out over such a long period of time with a lot of time between games. But I loved it. It was my first time in the West Indies, in a World Cup, and I had a bit of success. Up until the World Cup last season, that was probably the World Cup where we should have made the final. We had Sri Lanka on the ropes a bit, and let them off the hook, and then a middle-order collapse ended our hopes unfortunately.”

The following year, 2008, saw Fulton enter the Test fray again. He toured England, without managing a Test berth, then played a handful of matches against Bangladesh, Australia and Pakistan over 2008 and ’09.

Although he failed to get past 36, it would be easy for Fulton to be disappointed that he never got a decent run in the side, but he puts that blame squarely on himself.

“That period I got a few opportunities, and just didn’t take them, really. Anyone who gets left out would like a few more games, a few more chances to prove themselves, but I had plenty of opportunities when I look back and wasn’t good enough at the time to take them. If you get opportunities and don’t take them, you’ve only got yourself to look at, I guess.”

***

Despite his international appearances not being as regular as he might have hoped, there was still plenty on Peter Fulton’s plate.

2007-08 saw Canterbury win the domestic four-day title (then the State Championship) for the first time in a decade. It was a significant victory, with success in the final coming over Wellington at the Basin Reserve. In a five-day final, as the second-place finisher, Canterbury required outright victory.

Worthy foes, a traditional ground, a historical result.

“We ended up setting them something like 200 or 210 in the last innings, on a pretty flat wicket. It shouldn’t have been too much of a problem for them, but we got a few early wickets, and managed to win. I’d won a one-day title, but for most of the guys it was their first title for Canterbury, so it was a pretty exciting day really.”

For Fulton, as such an integral part of that Canterbury unit, it wasn’t a half bad result for a young lad from Canterbury Country.

“When I was young, I knew my uncle had played for Canterbury, and captained Canterbury – so it was pretty cool to have something like that to aspire to … He was always someone that I looked up to, and though ‘well, if he can play for Canterbury then so can I’.”

But one thing Roddy Fulton never achieved was international representation – Fulton junior was the first man from Canterbury Country to go on to national honours. But a Test cap wasn’t a requirement: cricket was very much in the family veins, and “I was always going to be involved in the game,” Fulton says.

Proof of the family cricket genes came when Fulton’s brother, David, played alongside his sibling for Canterbury.

“Dave was always a pretty handy cricketer, played a lot for Canterbury Country. I think he’d himself say he never really set his sights on playing for Canterbury, then a couple of years ago we were a bit short on a wicket-keeper – Reece Young had left, Kruger van Wyk had left, and there was a bit of a vacancy. That was one of my highlights I reckon, being able to play those couple of games with him, and see him be able to experience that and get a little taste of it.”

***

Aside from a one-off Twenty20 against South Africa, Fulton’s international career ended in 2009. He made himself very successful domestic skipper, winning a Plunket Shield title in charge, and started to score runs.

Perhaps the most surprising element of New Zealand’s abandonment of Fulton was that he was dropped from the one-day team. His record stacked up as better than most in the country, and certainly had the backing of the stats in ODIs and List A matches alike.

“In Test cricket, I got plenty of opportunities, and didn’t take as many as I should have. But in one-day cricket, I felt like I actually had a pretty good record – especially for at the time. If your strike rate is over 70, in those days it stacked up pretty well, even if that’s now a bit slow. A little bit disappointing to have not played a few more one-dayers, but that’s the way it goes.”

As the years went by, Fulton figured his international career had come to a close.

“To be honest, I thought that was it after my last one in 2009 or whenever it was. I remember thinking that it’d probably be my last chance.”

But Fulton had moved to the top of the Canterbury order by 2012-13, and “I just had one of those seasons where I couldn’t stop scoring runs”. Combined with a new coach and selection regime, Fulton was given a fresh chance. After a squad selection to South Africa, he returned to the field the following series as part of a brand new opening partnership selected to take on Anderson, Broad and Finn.

“I got the call-up, which came a bit out of the blue, but I was over the moon nonetheless.”

This time, Fulton made it count. With a ground-out half century, facing 169 balls for 55, Fulton complimented the stroke-play of Hamish Rutherford’s 171 exquisitely. The partnership was worth 158, and to all intents and purposes, it appeared New Zealand had found an opening duo to finally fill the boots of Richardson and Fleming – hell, even Fleming hated opening. Hark back to Wright and Franklin, or Wright and Edgar.

These two might even be better than those for crying out loud.

In the third Test, at Eden Park, Fulton showed himself to be as good at the big innings as Rutherford had appeared to be – twin hundreds. One dour, the other far more free flowing.

“There was a decent chance that I’d get on the tour of England, but a part of me was saying that I needed to get a big score in the last Test to cement my spot in the team. There’d been a lot of talk about how bouncy the pitch had been in the one-day games, and that it suited the English team. When we turned up a couple of days before, it looked like it’d be pretty flat. I was keen to make the most of my last two innings in the series.”

The first innings was a test of mental strength – he eliminated the risky shots, refused to get out, and let the runs come around that.

“Especially on that first day, it was a real test mentally to stick to my game plan. The second innings was a lot more fun and a lot more enjoyable – I got to play shots, and there’s not many times in a Test match when you can play as many shots as you want and it effectively didn’t matter if you got out because we were close to declaring. Two pretty contrasting innings from a mental standpoint, but a mixture of happiness to get that first hundred, and a little bit of relief to be able to cross it off the list.”

Not only did Fulton manage a first Test hundred – and then a second – to remember for posterity, but he did it against a very, very good English bowling attack.

“It was very satisfying. Especially as, during the series, I’d copped a fair bit of grief from some of the English players – you only take that as a compliment, because if you’re getting sledged it means you’re sticking around for a while and getting under their skin. It was nice to prove I could play at that level, and show them that I wasn’t going to let them get on top of me mentally.”

But the return series, in the UK, was a far more challenging one for Fulton – and, for that matter, the entire New Zealand side. The ball swung, the bowlers put the ball in the right place, and suddenly they were all at sea.

“They were bloody tough conditions, the ball swung more, it pitched and seamed more. Most of our batsmen struggled a little more. At international level, that’s what separates the good players from the great players. The great players can score in all conditions against all bowling attacks – if you’re not quite at that level, you can score runs on a flat wicket, or against an average bowling attack, or when it’s your day, or you’re in a good run of form. But the great players will find a way to do that no matter what sort of form they’re in, or how well the other team’s bowling. That’s the beauty of the game, you get to test yourself against the best players, and while sometimes you’re going to have success, sometimes you’re not unfortunately.”

As for the Lord’s Test in that series… Let’s not go there. It’s still too painful.

***

Despite some key, grinding knocks – where Fulton’s return was in time batted, not necessarily runs scored – on the tour to Bangladesh, where his personal performance was certainly better than the side’s, Fulton started to struggle a bit.

At home against the West Indies, and then India, Fulton struggled for runs. On the tour of the West Indies in mid-2014, he was given the captain’s armband in a couple of tour games, but was omitted when it came to Test cricket.

“It was disappointing at the time, but again, I had my opportunities – I had about ten innings in that period, and made a 60 against the West Indies, but didn’t make another substantial score … I had my opportunities and didn’t take them, and being a bit older than a lot of the other guys, you don’t get as much leeway as you do when you’re a bit younger.

“I loved every minute of playing for New Zealand, and I don’t really have any regrets to be honest – it is what it is.”

So Fulton returned to domestic cricket, and Canterbury. He’s had some magnificent moments in his those colours, during and since his return to the national squad.

In 2013-14, he almost single-handedly led his side to a semi-final miracle over Northern Districts. He finished 88 not-out, just falling short of the six he needed to win the game off the last ball.

“That still pisses me off a bit that we didn’t win that game. But that’s the nature of T20 cricket, it came down to one or two balls … It’s what the crowd likes about T20, what the players like about it, you get those pressure moments, with the game on TV and everything. That’s the reason you want to play – you want to play in those big moments.”

Although Ronnie Hira and Andrew Ellis have taken over the limited overs skippership for the Cantabrians, Fulton’s retained the four-day leadership. Having won the Plunket Shield in 2013-14 and 2014-15, they’re gunning for three titles in a row this season – and look a good chance of making it happen.

Fulton has no chance of retiring just yet.

“I’m not sure [how long I’ll go]. I’m just taking it year by year at the moment, I guess it gets to a point where you’ve got to find other challenges and move on to other things. But I’m still enjoying it – enjoying the game, enjoying the training. I’ve still got the desire to train and improve and try and get better. I’m still scoring runs, so I’ll take it season-by-season.

“It would’ve been pretty hard to finish last season, especially after winning the Plunket Shield for the second time in the row – I don’t think anyone’s ever done it three years in a row [not since WWII]. So I guess that was a bit of a carrot, to come back and have another crack.”

When he does retire, he’ll have a phenomenal record. As well as a First Class 300, two Test centuries, and nearly 10 000 First Class runs, he now holds the record for most FC appearances for Canterbury, having broken Paul McEwan’s record this season.

“I remember looking in the almanacks after I’d played one or two seasons, and looking through the Canterbury stats. Seeing Paul McEwan was the leading run-scorer, had the most games, it seemed like a million years away. I thought there was no chance I’d ever get near it. The only record I ever really looked at for Canterbury was the run-scoring one, that was the only one, as my career progressed, that I thought would be pretty cool to try and break. Most games just means I’ve been pretty lucky with injuries, and played for a long time.”

Looking to the future, Fulton has a few avenues open – journalism and rugby refereeing among them – but while he’s not sure what the future holds for him after cricket, he’s already handed the baton on.

Tom Latham, now New Zealand’s premier Test opener, has come through under Fulton’s leadership, having himself graduated into the First Class captaincy. Fulton hedges no bets on where he’s headed:

“He’ll be playing Test cricket for the next ten years I would’ve thought. Probably end up with five or six thousand runs, and hopefully 15, 20 Test hundreds. That’ll probably be what happens if everything goes his way – even when he first came on the scene for Canterbury at 17 or 18, you could tell he was going to be a pretty good player. He works hard, trains hard, he’s got a great attitude. Good luck to him.”


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