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Martin Bicknell: ‘The best period of my career bizarrely coincided with me not playing for England’

Martin Bicknell
Jo Harman by Jo Harman 6 minute read

Back in 2016, Martin Bicknell opened up on cleaning up with Surrey and a peculiar England career during a conversation with Jo Harman.

First published in 2016

Seventh heaven

Seven wickets | Surrey 2nd XI v Middlesex 2nd XI, 2nd XI Championship, The Oval | 1985

I was 16 at the time. I bowled a lot of overs and took seven wickets in the match. Daryll Cullinan was in the opposition bizarrely enough. I’d had my heart set on a career in cricket for a long time and I’d played a few second XI games that season and always bowled quite nicely. I was never an out-and-out quick bowler, I relied on skill and being able to swing the ball. I always felt like I could compete at that level.

Demolition Derby

2-23 & 3-30 | Surrey v Derbyshire, County Championship, The Oval | 1986

My first-class debut. I’d taken five wickets for the second team in the game before against Glamorgan and the first team were struggling so there was a hint that I was going to get a chance. It was a huge step up, I was really nervous, but I bowled well and settled quickly. I had a really good year and played most of the games.

Taking the new nut

65 wickets at 26.41 | County Championship season | 1989

In the winter of 1988, I worked incredibly hard on my fitness and then ‘89 was a real breakthrough season for me. We didn’t have an overseas bowler so I ended up opening the bowling with Tony Murphy and I was named joint bowler of the year. I got a place on the England A tour that winter to Zimbabwe and came back with a good report. But I didn’t think I was a complete bowler by any stretch.

Waqar’s arrival

67 wickets at 27.26 | County Championship season | 1990

This was the year they reduced the seam on the ball and the batsmen cashed in. After two games of that season I had one wicket for 305 runs! From thinking I was close to playing at Test level, it suddenly seemed a world away. The defining moment came when we signed Waqar Younis. He was the master of reverse-swing so we used that method a lot on flat wickets and I rode off the back of that and wickets came a bit easier. I learnt quite a lot from Waqar about the way to look after the ball and make sure that by overs 50 and 60 it was starting to reverse-swing.

The Ashes tour

9 wickets at 45.44 | Ashes tour | 1990/91

I went on the 1990/91 Ashes tour but probably wasn’t quite ready for it. Going to Australia with Kookaburra balls, the ball didn’t swing so much and I struggled a little bit and my confidence got knocked. I played a few of the one-dayers and did alright but I didn’t play any Test matches. I didn’t feel totally ready for Test cricket. With a ball that swung I was always good value for wickets, but if the ball didn’t swing in foreign conditions I didn’t feel like I had enough skills to compete. That Test series came a bit early for me.

The Test debut

1-155 | England v Australia, 4th Test, Headingley | 1993

I’d taken 63 wickets in 10 Championship games for Surrey and I was ready. I felt that playing at Headingley was going to be a good place to make my debut – unbeknown to me it would be the flattest wicket ever! The ball didn’t swing. They got 650-4 and declared at lunch on the third day. I bowled 50 overs and actually thought I bowled really well even though I only got one wicket: Mark Taylor lbw on my 17th ball. But they had two immovable objects in Steve Waugh and Allan Border. Then we went to Edgbaston and again I bowled really well, taking 3-99, and I felt like I belonged. Unfortunately I got injured before the Oval Test and then missed out on the winter tour, which came as a bit of a shock to me. The next couple of years were shocking for me injury-wise.

Super Surrey

71 wickets at 18.95 | County Championship season | 1999

I don’t think I took a five-wicket haul that year because I never came back and cleaned up – Saqlain and Salisbury bowled at the death. I couldn’t have done any more that year. That was the best period of my career but bizarrely it coincided with me not playing for England. I never got a look in which still rankles a bit. Championship-wise, we were always winning it. I don’t think there were too many occasions when I thought we were under pressure. We were dominant that year.

Fox hunting

7-72 & 9-47 | Surrey v Leicestershire, County Championship, Guildford | 2000

I got 16 wickets against Leicestershire and that was a big moment in my career. They were our big rivals at the time and we just blew them away. This was the best cricket team I was ever part of. We just smashed everybody and won our second consecutive title. I was at the peak of my ability and my batting was really starting to make a difference as well. The following season I got my first first-class hundred.

The unexpected call

2-50 & 2-75 | England v South Africa, Headingley, 4th Test | 2003

I thought I’d passed my peak and at no point did I ever contemplate they might pick me. David Graveney had left a message asking me to call him back and I genuinely thought he was going to ask me about a couple of bowlers they might select. He told me I was in the 13 and that he didn’t think I was going to play but he’d like me to go to Headingley because he was waiting on a couple of injuries. The thought crossed my mind: ‘Do I really want to play for England at this point in my career? If I have a bad game then people will say that’s why I wasn’t picked in the first place.’ But I decided to take it with both hands. And then I got the nod. The pitch was green and damp and I bowled really well but we lost and I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m done’.

The Oval special

2-71 & 4-84 | England v South Africa, The Oval, 5th Test | 2003

Martin Bicknell, Mark Butcher, Graham Thorpe, and Alec Stewart celebrate England’s victory over South Africa at The Oval

Then they told me they wanted me to play at The Oval! On the first day we didn’t bowl very well as a team, I didn’t think I bowled very well, and they smashed us all over the place. Then on day two, as we were about to go out, Michael Vaughan said: ‘You have the new ball, see what you can do.’ That spell changed the match. I took two wickets quickly then we batted really well and put ourselves in a great position. What happened in that second innings is just the stuff of dreams. We bowled really well, I got four wickets, and we won the match and that genuinely was it. It was a nice way to finish. That memory will be with me for the rest of my life, being part of a Test match win at The Oval.

First published in 2016

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