Published in 2008
I’ve always had a number of cricketing heroes, so it was a tough call to pick my number one icon. However after considerable deliberation, I settled on someone who could not only bat, bowl and field, but with three first-class stumpings, a player who could keep wicket too.
Mark Alleyne, or ‘Boo Boo’ as he was affectionately known, is a player I watched a lot growing up in Gloucestershire. He led, undeniably, one of the best one-day teams ever seen in county cricket, collecting six trophies in six years and, having triumphed in those six Lord’s finals, he will be remembered as one of the great captains in the history of the English game.
But it wasn’t just his achievements as a leader that marked him out as a special cricketer; as a player, Alleyne had everything.
Let’s start with his batting. It wasn’t the fact that he had all the shots, it was the ease with which he played them. He was a lovely timer of a cricket ball, something that was never more in evidence than during his brilliant innings of 112 in the 1999 Benson and Hedges Super Cup. I think any century in a final is special, but in a match where virtually every other batsman struggled, we saw one of the most experienced players in England really showing his class and authority on the big stage. Other than that horrendous Gunn and Moore helmet he used to wear, it was the way he made batting look such an easy and natural activity that I remember most.
But it was his bowling that I think had more of an influence on me. Growing up I was only a batsman, but ‘Boo Boo’ was a big part of why I decided to take up bowling. As a seamer he looked relatively innocuous, but by employing all his nous and variations, he made the act of bowling look interesting and exciting, a part of the game you could experiment with. He’d usually come on first change in the one-day game, but he was very flexible and whether it was at the start, middle or end of the innings, he could always bowl as the situation demanded. Rarely going at more than four runs an over, he was always economical, and if he didn’t pick up at least a couple of wickets in his spell you were surprised.
Since I never faced him in a match I can only assume that such a good economy rate came from the fact that he rarely bowled the same delivery twice in a row. He had a range of slower balls, and was equally adept at moving the ball in as he was at nipping it away. And having faced him once in the nets as an 18-year-old trying to break into the second XI, the one thing I was surprised about was how hard, for someone generally classed as nothing more than a medium pacer, he hit the bat. You combine that with his many variations and you had a bowler of real menace.
That just leaves his fielding. Well, we rarely got to see the best of it as he spent most of his time at mid-on, but let’s just say that if he was under a high one, you could start the celebrations, or commiserations if you were the batsman. And, besides that, he had a repertoire of little tricks (flicks around and over his back) that if I had ever tried would only end in injury to the batsmen, the umpires, or myself!
Besides my admiration for his abilities as a sportsman, I will always remember ‘Boo Boo’ for giving me one of my most special moments in cricket.
It was the Gloucester festival and I was doing 12th man duty for a game against Northants as there were no staff players available. It was 2004, the year Gloucestershire had Jonty Rhodes as their overseas player, and I was called on. Coincidently it was my brother Alex that I was replacing and the position was third man. Mike Hussey was on his way to yet another triple ton so I prepared myself for a good few overs on the boundary, and looked forward to watching Jonty doing his thing at point. But after the second or third ball I saw Jonty starting to run, very gingerly, towards me, and the next thing I saw was ‘Boo Boo’ waving, and shouting for me to come up to the infield! Still not completely sure what was going on, it soon became clear when, on passing me with a big grin on his face, Jonty, one of the nicest men in the game, said to me, “You just stole my position you little s***!”
So there I was, my first few minutes on a first-class cricket pitch and I was standing at the fairly important position of point, whilst Jonty Rhodes, one of my all time cricketing heroes and arguably the best fielder cricket has ever seen, is down at third man copping all sorts of friendly abuse from the Gloucestershire faithful in front of the magnificent 50-person temporary stand! For a very nervous 18-year-old lad, ‘Boo Boo’ made one of the nicest gestures I’ve come across on a cricket pitch.
When I mentioned to a couple of people that I was writing for All Out Cricket’s icon page, they asked, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Why Mark Alleyne?” My answer was simple. I explained to them that, for me, ‘Boo Boo’ wasn’t just someone who turned up for work and played some cricket, he turned up with the intention of entertaining everyone who had bothered to buy a ticket to watch him. He’d do things on the pitch that I’d never seen before, and that’s what made watching him so appealing. Whether it was with bat, ball, in his captaincy decisions or even with the gloves, he was, quite simply, a county cricket genius.
Published in 2008