26 May 2002

England ambition still burns for Matthew Maynard, but he accepts that his chances are now fading fast.

This week and next week Matthew Maynard should have been playing against Sri Lanka – for Glamorgan at Sofia Gardens and for England at Edgbaston. Two different reasons prevented him – a broken hand and broken dreams.

The hand could have happened to any player, a Mark Alleyne ball that came off the seam last month and will see Maynard back on June 12. But broken dreams take longer to mend. These fractures began back in July 1988 when a 22-year-old Matthew Maynard got picked for England against Australia, had little luck in either innings and promptly got dropped for the easier assignment against Sri Lanka a month later. Only three Tests have followed. “No one in the domestic game,” concludes Wisden, “has converted so much talent into so few England caps”.

It had all begun so well for the Oldham-born boy whose father was first a professional boxer and then semi-pro cricketer as well as running the Liverpool Arms at Menai Bridge; to be exact, Matt’s started with three successive sixes to close out a century on his county debut against Yorkshire in 1985.

At the end of 1988 he had been made `Wisden Young Cricketer of The Year’, at the start of the next season Micky Stewart said “get a few runs and you will be in the frame.” Maynard’s swashbuckling answer was a career-best 191. But the Test call never came.

Mind you the chairman of the selectors did call that June, the present chairman that is. It was David Graveney, then a Gloucestershire spinner, and the request was to join a `rebel’ South African tour to be led by Mike Gatting that winter. Graveney brought South African cricket supremo Ali Bacher round to `Maynard Towers’. The money promised (and paid) would be £83,000 after tax, the equivalent return for playing in every Test and one-dayer for the next five years. Touring would mean a Test ban for at least that period but for a newly married young man looking to buy his house it was an offer he could not refuse.

In fact, the ban lasted only three years and, in 1993, success for Glamorgan in the Sunday League and a century before lunch against the Australians at Neath in August saw him back against the Aussies in the Test team. A duck on the first morning had been preceded by the arrival of his daughter Ceri at 4am, and he continued for the next Test and for the first on the West Indian tour that winter. Just four Tests, but that up to now has been the end of it for Maynard.

Yet as a cricketer that hasn’t even been the half of it. The “OLL IE” number plate on his ageing silver BMW (after Oliver Reed) might recall times when he has licked his wounds by drowning his sorrows, but in the Nineties he buckled down to captain Glamorgan from 1996-2000.

Under Duncan Fletcher’s guidance, he took them to only their third-ever county championship in 1997 with a magnificent 141 in the final game against Somerset which earned him Fletcher’s tribute “a technique as good as anyone in world cricket today.”

More than 21,500 first-class runs, and another 11,700 in limited-overs cricket saw Maynard in England’s one-day squad in both 1997 and 2000, and even this February hope still lived as he ran the beach in Tenerife to the encouragement of his 12-year-old son, Tom.

“My lad kept saying `you can do it Dad, get fit, get some runs early, you can make the World Cup Squad’” Maynard said last week. “I was thinking that James Foster did not have a brilliant winter as a wicket-keeper batsman. He could be the future as regards Test cricket but in one-dayers you need someone in the middle order who can knock it around and see games home. I had a really good season keeping wicket and batting at five for Glamorgan last year – and made a couple of match-winning contributions – I thought here was another chance.”

“Then Mark Alleyne broke my hand at Worcester. I was not even going to be available for the one-dayers. It looked like the end of me going to the World Cup. My lad was terribly upset. I still have ambitions to get an England call. If I didn’t have, I wouldn’t be playing. I am just going to have to do it for Glamorgan, and do it twice or three times as well perhaps.”

The scene was surely set for a good old-fashioned whinge when we travelled up the Rhonda from Cardiff and finally arrived at the bright but modest detached house three up from the police station in Pentyrch. But Maynard is having none of it. “My only regret,” he says, the brown eyes level and friendly, the sometimes-bearded chin clean-shaven, “is that I never did myself justice at international level.”

“I had the opportunities to. Some people might argue I deserved more opportunities but I had the opportunities and didn’t take them, and that is my disappointment. I have no beef with anyone regarding selection or anything like that.”

Walking out to look at Pentyrch’s open grassy sports field which includes one pitch where Tom Maynard plays rugby, another where Glamorgan once memorably came to play (and get beaten) in a county match and a third behind the yew hedge where 12 white-skirted ladies are preparing themselves for a somewhat windswept bowls match, you wonder just how much bravado there is in Mathew Maynard’s recollection.

Tony Lewis, the Glamorgan president and himself captain of both country and county, remembers how shattered the young player was when he was dropped after that opening Test. “We all need confidence,” recalls Lewis, “and for me this sense of being on trial meant that the longer Matthew played, the shorter in self-confidence he got. As a TV commentator I remember remarking on a terrific look of apprehension as he went out to bat. It was a shame because he was good enough not just to play for England but to captain the side. He has a real feel for the game.”

Lewis has, of course, moved on to even greater eminence as head of the Welsh Tourist Board and listening to the once-buccaneering and sometimes Welsh-speaking Maynard is to think that the land of the dragon has riches in it beyond the bank balance. With a different twist Matthew might be in to fortune and fame a long way from the billowing skirts of the bowls ladies of Pentyrch. But as he talks of spending his winter passing his coaching exams and working part time for Thomas Carroll Property, there is pride and optimism not wistfulness or regret.

“At the end of the day,” he says thoughtfully, “I count myself lucky to have made a living out of something I love. When I stop playing I don’t want to be bitter. I want to stay involved in the game. Look, it’s a wonderful life and although I still have this ambition, a burning ambition to justify my talent on the international stage, I know the percentages of that happening now are very slim. But it won’t stop me trying.”

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